How does one show his or her pain? Jonathan’s agony from the death of his father is
shown throughout “The Writer in the Family” by utilizing symbolism. To Jonathan, it’s as if his
father did not die a ‘complete’ death and that haunts him. This pain is shown in a unique way
throughout the story. Jonathan, as he tells this first person narrative, does not come right out and
put words to his feelings concerning his father. At the start of the story Jonathan plainly states
that his father died in 1955 and he explains the situation of how Jonathan’s aunts on his dad’s
side choose not to tell Jonathan’s grandmother about his father’s passing, but he does not reveal
the sorrow resulting from the death of his father. Instead of clearly stating Jonathan’s feelings,
Doctorow utilizes symbolism throughout the story to readdress Jonathan’s pain. The problems
with Jonathan’s father’s grave, the discomfort of Jonathan trying on clothes of his father’s and
the bad dreams Jonathan experiences are all symbols used sporadically to reflect on the pain felt
by Jonathan due to the death of his father. In “The Writer in the Family,” E.L Doctorow uses the
symbolism of the father’s missing headstone, the dreams Jonathan has of his deceased father and
Jonathan’s reactions as he tries on his father’s suit to reveal his inner conflict over his father’s
The first instance revealing Jonathan’s inner conflict is the image of his father’s
missing headstone. Jonathan, along with his brother, Harold, and his mother, Ruth, travel to the
cemetery one day to visit where his father, Jack, is buried. Jonathan notes, “…father’s grave was
planted with tiny shoots of evergreen but it lacked a headst...
... middle of paper ...
...d use of symbols.
Doctorow, E.L. “The Writer in the Family.” The Language of Literature. Ed. Arthur N.
Applebee, et al. Evanston, Ill; McDougal Littel, 2000. 1157-1164. Print.
Neil Heims, Critical Essay on “The Writer in the Family,” in Short Stories for Students. Ed. Sara
Constantakis. Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 273-276.
Matterson, Stephen. “Why Not Say What Happened? E.L. Doctorow’s Lives of the Poets.”
Critique. Vol. 34. No. 2. Jan. 1993. 113-125. Excepted and reprinted in Short Stories for
Students. Vol. 27. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 281-283.
Michelle Tokarczyk, Critical Essay on “The Writer in the Family,” in Short Stories for Students.
Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 273-276.
“The Writer in the Family.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 14.
Detroit:Gale, 2009. 263-283.
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