The Influence of Family Relations in the Literature

Categories: Family

Like Father, Like Son. Like Mother, Like Daughter. Many say that genetics is responsible for the similarities of child and parent and that our genetic difference is only 0.5%. This implies that we are 99.5% identical, if not, similar. But this little genetic difference only accounts for physical and partial mental differences. Our main differences in identity, personality, ethics and morals are nurtured into us from our initial environments: different parents who choose different living locations with different weather, different economic standards, different religious practices and different living conditions.

Since people develop their uniqueness during their youth, when they are surrounded by mother and fathers, it is expected that they powerfully influence our views and beliefs of the world. In The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Kingsolver tells us a story of a father who is so devoted to himself and god that his daughters are driven away.

In the poem “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, tells a different story of a grown man discovering his similarities to his father and his father’s father, knocking down the years of isolation from family.

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In the Essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan, Tan talks of her own recollection of her mother’s positive influence on her identity, personality and what she became today. Together, these three pieces all seek out the truth on how the family relationships determines final identity of children. Like Father, Like Son; parents tend teach their children to be them. Children, on the other hand, continually look and strive for the love and acceptance of their parents.

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In The Poisonwood Bible, a key narrator, Leah Price, daughter of Nathan Price, continually looked up to him and followed in his steps. Leah would do imitate and do everything Nathan did.

Even her speech pattern was influenced by Nathan. Leah’s search for approval from Nathan slowly influenced Leah’s point of views, when Leah sees “he has two wives” Leah mentions “he’s a sinner.” “a young and an old one. Why, they all come to Church!” (Kingsolver 125). It is known that the young mimics the actions of parents because they are the first people a child meets and connects with, their innocent minds are gravitated and molded towards the parent’s belief systems, way of life and their actions. Leah is the perfect example of this occurrence, Rachel, Leahs’ sister, describes Leah as “Miss The-Lord-Is-My-Shepherd” as Leah slowly developed into Nathan and continually strove for his acceptance (Kingsolver 400). Leah would “Fetch bucket after bucket of water from the big galvanized tub” for Nathan to use (Kingsolver 45); In another occurrence, the family’s “maid” created mounds of soil to cultivate plants, contrary to the likings of Nathan, Leah, “without a word passing between [Nathan and Leah], leveled it out again as flat as the Great Plains. [Leah] did all the hoeing [herself], to spare [Nathan’s) afflicted hands” (Kingsolver 50).

Leah took on Nathan’s mission to be an example of christian pride, and mirrored Nathan’s words and movements. Striving for Nathan’s appraisal, Leah did things on her own that she thinks Nathan would be proud of. In the poem “Digging” by Seamus Heaney, Heaney is writing that his father is digging, as he always is, tending the potato farm. Heaney “looks down” at his father. His literally elevated position gives Heaney a sense of superiority to manual work his father does. In the next stanza, Heaney reflects on his family’s proud achievements measured by a shovel and the ability to handle one. When we return back to the beginning of the poem, “The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.” and to the end of the poem “The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it” we can see that Heaney recognizes that his skills in writing is parallel to his forefather’s skills with a shovel (Heaney). We can see that Leah Price and Seamus Heaney both have lives that are as a result of their father. Though we would think parents know best, we often find their influence on our perceptions and beliefs are twisted and garbled, in the negative direction of their own identities.

In The Poisonwood Bible, as the story progresses, we see that Leah Price comes to a realization that her father Nathan has views and plans that are a bit extreme and unrealistic. Leah eventually disconnected with her father and found Nathan’s plan to succeed by forcing the native Congolese to “praise the lord” and injecting western values into their culture, to be an absolute failure. As Leah distance herself from Nathan, and later leaves him along with her other sisters and mother; we see that she does still care for Nathan when she hears of his “living alone… [without anyone to] cook for him… [Nathan], bearded, wild-haired, and struggling badly with malnutrition and parasites,” but finds that she no longer has the strength to put up with his ridiculous profligate lifestyle (Kingsolver 495). Similar to The Poisonwood Bible, In “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan, we observe Amy’s life obstructed by her mother’s non-perfect English, as she had to act as a human translator, even at the age of fifteen, she had to “call people on the phone to pretend [she] was [her mother]”, sometimes, she was even “forced to ask for information or even to complain and yell at people who had been rude to [her mother]” (Tan 88).

Even after Tan has transitioned to adulthood and began to start her own family, Tan still finds herself in the grasp of her mother, assisting her in communication with others. During her youth, Tan was always ashamed and embarrassed because of her mother’s imperfect English, “people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants did not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or even acted if they did not hear her,” so Tan attempted to distance herself from her Mother, to get away from her heritage. Tan proceeded to “major in English [her] first year in college” and became a writer. Yet, once Tan became a writer – with “wittily crafted sentences, sentences that would finally prove [Tan] had mastery over the English language,” she realizes that she is she is not being true to her roots, and began to write so that the “common man” can understand her; inspired by her mother, Tan set out to capture “her intent, her passion, her imagery, the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts”.

Tan’s mother’s “imperfect” understanding of English was exactly what Tan was looking for, Tan knew she succeeded when her mother gave her the verdict “So easy to read.” Tan’s essay shows that even though one would distance self from embarrassment caused by family, ultimately, your identity is shaped by their nurture. If you look deep into your roots, you will discover remnants of the “imperfect English” you try so hard to escape from, in it. Tan, Heaney and Kingsolver are all cases of where parents influence the child’s future and perception of the world. The vast amount of time allocated by society for the connection between children and parent creates a deep network link between them. Inadvertently, our different parents who choose different living locations with different weather, different economic standards, different religious practices and different living conditions in addition to their decisions, actions and character, shapes our personality, ethics, morals and beliefs; our Identities.


  1. Heaney, Seamus. “Digging by Seamus Heaney.” Elements of Literature – Sixth Course: Literature of Britain with World Classics. Austin, Texas: Hold, Rinehart, and Winston, 2003. 1118. Print.
  2. Kingsolver, Barbara. The poisonwood Bible: a novel. New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998. Print.
  3. Tang, Amy. “Tan: Mother Tongue.” Essays That Classify and Divide. 86-91. Print.

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The Influence of Family Relations in the Literature. (2021, Oct 11). Retrieved from

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