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In Amy Hempel’s story, "Today Will Be A Quiet Day," a father takes the day off to spend time with his two children at a place called "Petaluma." The title suggests that this day was one of calmness and relaxation, but in reality the title should be " A Family in Turmoil." Throughout the trip, the children argue, complain, and bicker which seems to suggest that the day is rather depressing and quite humbling for the father (Baker 170). The father’s good intentions for quality family time failed. When I first read the story, I felt that their relationships were a little detached and never quite came together.
Suffering from the death of a close friend, the boy tries to ignore his feelings and jokes on his sister. His friend was a mental patient who threw himself off a building. Being really young and unable to cope with this tragedy, the boy jokes to his sister about the bridge collapsing. "The mention of the suicide and of the bridge collapsing set a depressing tone for the rest of the story" (Baker 170). Arguments about Raisinettes force the father to settle it by saying, "you will both spoil your lunch." As their day continues, their arguments become more serious and present concern for the father who is trying to understand his children better. In complete agreement with Justin Oeltzes’ paper, "A Sad Story," I also feel that this dark foreshadowing of time to come is an indication of the author’s direct intention to write a sad story.
At lunch the children are rowdy and need to be calmed down. The father says, "Maybe we could try a little quiet today." The girl replies, "You sound like your tombstone. Remember what you wanted it to say?" Her brother joins in by saying, "Today will be a quiet day. Because it never is around us." (Hempel 1204). Shortly after completing their meal, the girl asks about her dog. "Did anyone remember to feed him?" she asks (Hempel 1205). The boy again brings death into the picture by saying that he forgot to feed the dog and then proceeds to remind her about her previous dog. She was told the dog was taken to a sheep farm where, in reality, the dog was put to sleep. Naturally, the girl began to cry.
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While at lunch the two kids were fighting and the father actually tells his children, "Who will adopt you if you do not mind your manners?" (Hempel 1204). This suggests that he is a poor parent and presents no true caring for his children. That statement is so negative and does nothing to help his children in their time of need. His intentions were good but he did not communicate well or give the proper support to his children. This is why his children were so unstable.
Throughout the story a mother is never mentioned. This could mean that she died or that the parents were divorced. If in fact she died, the children could also be suffering from post parental death syndrome, where they bring up death often to disguise their true feelings for their mother. All sorts of things can be said in interpreting this story. One, the father was a very poor parent and could not handle two children by himself. Two, because of the previous experiences with death, the children and the story are left with an appearance of dark gloom and sadness. The bright side is that the father is at least trying to become closer to his disturbed children.
A bit of irony is displayed at the conclusion of the story. The father is with his children, they are snuggled in their sleeping bags and he states he has some good news and some bad news. Being used to hearing bad news the children elect to hear it first. The father says, "I was just lying, there is no bad news." (Hempel 1206). As stated in Tara Baker’s essay, I also agree that they have been through several hard times and have faced many periods in their lives that were difficult to live through. At the end of the story the two children and their father believe that although there were bad times, there is hope for good times to come. The dark cloud that loomed over their lives is slowly going to drift away. They view the future with optimism and believe that, with patience, they will eventually be happy.
Works Cited /Consulted
Baker, Tara. "Is Today Really Quiet?" Ode to Friendship and Other Essays; Connie Bellamy: Virginia Beach, VA, 1997.
Oeltze, Justin. "A Sad Story." Ode to Friendship and Other Essays; Connie Bellamy: Virginia Beach, VA, 1997.
Hempel, Amy. "Today Will Be A Quiet Day." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 1202-1207.
Uivas, Eliseo. "Amy Hempel." A Library of Literary Criticism: Modern American Literature. Vol II Eds. Dorothy Nyren Curley, Maurice Kamer and Elaine Failker Kamer. NY: Urger, 1989.