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A Conversation with My Father: Literary Analysis #1
A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley is a short narrative about storytelling. The daughter, a writer, and her father, a terminally ill educated man, discuss styles of writing. The father asks for a simple story, direct and to the point, with a start and an end. The daughter opposes this style because it removes the ability for the reader to digest information and analyze writing. However, in an attempt to please her ailing father, she tells then retells a story about a woman and her junkie son.
Even yet, the father disapproves. The emotional gap between the father and daughter, displayed in their interpretation of the stories, alters the perception of coming to terms with death; the father sees all life as tragic, while his daughter is optimistic.
The father is gravely ill and an older gentleman, based on his unchanging interpretation of the stories, he seems stubborn, but almost burdened by his ailment.
His immediate response to the daughter’s open-ended story was discontent. “Tragedy! Plain tragedy! Historical tragedy! No hope. The End […] You have to look it in the face.” (Paley 68) This is a clear representation of the father’s outlook on life. He is bedridden and sick, he sees no hope and expects none. He expects stories to be absolute, a beginning and an end, that ultimately will end in failure or tragedy. The father has no pity, not even on himself. This outlook puts a strain on the relationship between him and his daughter.
It can easily be inferred that he did not always think this way. His daughter and he seem to have a very close relationship, where the father has taught the daughter many things, such as being optimistic and open to interpretation. It is very clear that his illness is altering his perception of life. His daughter, however, has a reciprocal approach to storytelling.
In the second version of the story the author allows the reader to interpret the story for themselves. This is where the daughter shows her outlook on life. She is optimistic about the future regardless of the barren and seemingly ending life of the mother in her story. “No pa, it doesn’t have to be […] She could be a hundred different things in this as time goes on.” (Paley 68) This ultimately reflects the overall outlook of the daughter when it comes to loss and death; everything right now may look barren and unresponsive, but there is hope for a happy ending. She understands her father’s illness and its affects here, but she still hopes for his recovery. Paley makes the argument through the daughter, that the ending should be open to the interpretation of the reader, not constrained by the emotion and strife of the author.
The daughter respects her father, but understands that his thought process is not the correct one. “The end. You were right to put that down. [Father] I didn’t want to argue, but I had to say, Well, it is not necessarily the end, Pa [Daughter]” (Page 67) She confronts her father directly in an attempt to convince him indirectly that his illness is not the end. This entire conversation is a proxy for the topic they both avoid. Neither wants to bring up the fact that the
e soon. So they use the story of a mother and her junkie son, in an attempt to shed light on the emotions felt by the two very strong and stubborn people.
The optimistic outlook of the daughter contrasts the absolute and direct nature of the father. This is shown through the reaction and interpretation of both of the stories told. As the reader, I was able to reflect on my own emotion and understand what my outlook is. I concluded that Illness is suffocating and can negatively affect the overall happiness of a person, which inevitably strains the relationships with those that one loves. Ultimately, that is what is happening between the father and daughter. Illness has clouded the father’s ability to be optimistic and have hope which creates a gap in his relationship with the daughter, this is proven through his interpretation of the short stories orated by his daughter.
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