The Writer in the Family

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Pain Shown Through Symbolism

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
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Jonathan then tells his mother that the suit is too big, since the sense of his father in

the jacket scares him. As with the symbol of a missing headstone, this image of Jonathan feeling

a little part of his father in the suit because of the lingering scent of his father, again shows how

Jonathan has not really come to accept his father’s death. This symbol “suggests a presence of

his father from which he has not freed himself” (“Writer”). He has not been able to do so since

he is forced to keep the image of his father alive by writing letters pretending to be his father. In

the story, Jonathan does not come right out and explain his inner conflict due to the passing of

father, but instead he describes himself being uncomfortable while trying on his father’s suits, to

address his conflict. Also, Jonathan’s inner conflict stems deeper into the person that he will

become. Jonathan’s “discomfort and his sense of being less than his father are represented by his

uneasy feeling when he tries on his father’s too-large suit jacket” (Heims 275). A suit jacket too

large for Jonathan symbolizes that Jonathan does not feel that he is living up to his father, and it

suggest his fear of being less than his father was. Being less than the man his father was, when

he was still living, scares Jonathan, readdressing the character’s pain. In all, it is evident of

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anguish from Doctorow’s use of the symbolic image of Jonathan’s distress from
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