Salvatore La Puma

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Confucius once said, “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” Many people across the world deem family as the most important aspect of their life. Family is something that often teaches us moral values and helps shape the individuals we become later in our lives. The values taught by family are not only essential, but will help develop the moral character of an individual. In the short story, “Cakes,” Salvatore La Puma conveys the prominence of family values in Italian-American immigrant culture in the 1940’s industrial era.

La Puma utilizes the first paragraph as mini-ethnography to portray the unity of the Vitale family. The introduction states,

That summer he sweated from the humidity which in 1940 everyone in Brooklyn sweated from; then he sweated from the hot ovens at Carlo Amato’s pastry shop in Bensonhurst four or five nights a week; then he sweated from the hot ovens at a pastry shop Downtown every day of the week except on Sunday, when he usually slept until noon. From Downtown, Giovanni Vitale came home at the end of the workday on the BMT subway to his wife, Lisa, to their three kids Anna, Steve, and Johnny. After dinner they would all listen to the Philco. Then Giovanni and the eldest kid, Johnny, eleven, walked three long blocks and two short blocks, past the old people who fanned themselves on the stoops, to Carlo’s shop on Seventeenth Avenue (4).

The first paragraph evokes the normal and typical structure of the Italian-American immigrant family in this era. In the Vitale family, everyone has their own role. The father, Giovanni Vitale, has the duty of working long hours to provide for his family. The mother, Lisa, has the role of a homemaker, making dinner for the family, and takin...

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...llels the image where mother Mary is holding baby Jesus. Although Martina is not related to Johnny, her caring and nurturing behavior illustrates her thoughtful, kind, and hospitable personality. The use of Martina as a mother-like figure, allows La Puma to convey the essence of family values in Italian American culture.

Although many families today are dysfunctional and fragmented, “Cakes” serves to show the importance of unity within a family. No matter what we do or where we go, family is something that will carry us and define who we are. Family serves as a building block or blueprint for success. The values that a family instills allow the “strength” of an individual to prevail. In this short story, La Puma is able to highlight the role of family as an educator, and protector, and depict the importance of family values in Italian-American immigrant culture.

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