The poems “The Laughter in the Kitchen” and “Families” examine two unhappy families and marriages, which may be representative of generational gaps and misunderstandings. Both of the poems reveal the fact that instead of paying attention to the happiness and sweetness within marriages, people often show more concern for the disharmony in their families. They also demonstrate the fact that only through personal experience can people develop their understanding towards marriage. In other words, marriages of different generations are dissimilar to each other to some extent, and therefore it makes no sense to totally follow others’ advice about marriage.
The poem “Laughter in the Kitchen” demonstrates how people tend to omit sweet memories of marriage and keep uncomfortable ones in mind. When the daughter is playing marriage with her friend in the kitchen, the mother is curious and overhears her daughter’s conversation with her friend. While the daughter pretends to be Dad who keeps consuming drugs, she lacks the self-realization that her impression towards the concept of a father is perhaps shaped by her imagination of her own father. Obviously, the mother does not live a happy life and always remembers her grief and suffering in this marriage. Although the couple once shared a loving and romantic relationship, later, their affectionate bond breaks with further development into marriage, which makes the wife feel unsatisfied and disappointed. It is noticeable that many people focus much more on the romance and care within a relationship. However, it is quite hard for some people to forget their suffering during marriages, and the sweet past cannot often compensate for their emptiness. As is shown in the poem, the mother does not realize that grief is a burden — “something to be shaken like the foxgloves in [her] garden” until the laughter of her daughter, who plays the role of Dad, reminds her of the significance to make herself cheerful (39-40). In this case, the tired wife shows pity for her marriage, which begins with flowers and continues in boredom and pain.
While the mother does not enjoy her unhappy relationship with her husband, she shows delightful expectations for her daughter’s future marriage. She considers pain as an essential part within marriages, which does not correspond to her daughter’s thoughts of marriage. As she states in the poem “[she has] learned the lessons of pain [and] now wait for the same light that makes [her] daughter’s face so luminous and wise” (41-44). The mother hopes that her daughter can always hold her optimistic attitude towards marriage and laugh gladly like this day in the kitchen. She sincerely wishes that the girl can gain some unique experience when she grows up and gets married. However, the woman fails to understand that her little girl does not comprehend marriage the same way as she does. Through her game of marriage, the naïve daughter dreams marriage to be one’s interesting and playful interaction with another person. She ignores her mother’s words that encourage her to be brave and does not care much about her behavior of showing her vagina to the neighboring boy. Meanwhile, she easily gives command to her friend and switches her role to be the mother at the end of the poem. This demonstrates that the girl treats marriage as a battle of power and does not consider the balance within a marriage. Even though the mother has wishful expectations towards her daughter’s marriage, she does not share any similarity with her daughter in terms of their comprehension towards families.
Similarly, the poem “Families” examines the pain and suffering in family and marriage, which is not only caused by the failure of effective communication between parents and children, but also the psychological isolation between couples. In terms of the family’s relationship in the poem, there is a huge generation gap between the mother and the son, which makes them fail to understand each other. The mother-child relationship is so tense that “harsh bitching” and quarrels always occur between both sides as usual (1). They do not know how to sympathize with each other and appreciate the advantages of both sides. Even in the latter part of the poem, when the narrator asks his mother about his own marriage and hopes that his mother can prevent his decision, the mother does not persuade him to give up as he expected she to do. On the one hand, the mother does not want to interfere with her child’s personal life through her advice. On the other hand, she may not agree with her son’s perspective that pain is the dominant part in marriage. Since the mother and the son have different personal experiences which distance their thoughts, they will never come to understand one another no matter how hard they try.
Apart from this conflict between the two generations, the marriage of the narrator’s parents is also miserable and desperate, which makes him feel that “the pains [are] more real than the joy” in every marriage (41-42). The father shows up as an invisible figure who does not want to shoulder his responsibility as both the breadwinner and the spiritual pillar of his unfamiliar family. He always thinks that “[he has] his job, his car, his sense of humor”, which separates him from the repressive family he does not appreciate (12). Instead of showing his masculinity and power in the family, the father chooses to cry over the endless quarrels and even keeps away from them. As the narrator states, his father is always “out of focus” in the family photos and does not bother to change his loose behavior (16). In fact, the father views himself as an isolated individual who does not share a close bond with his wife and son. As an outsider, neither can he show passion for the inharmonious family, nor does he attempt to do something practical to change the pessimistic situation. Consequently, he chooses to turn a blind eye to the frequent quarrels between his wife and his child. To some extent, the irresponsibility of the father aggravates the conflict between the poor mother and the immature child. The narrator’s romantic fantasy is broken by his parents’ indifferent relationship, which greatly increases his disappointment towards marriage.
The narrator is stricken by his parents’ unhappy marriage and tries his best to explore the reason of this harsh reality. From his view, the most significant reason is that family members cannot handle their feelings in a proper way. In other words, while people in his family do not seem to care much about small happiness, grief and sadness influence them a lot and make them sensitive to protect themselves from other members. Once disputes and quarrels arise in his family, people are accustomed to “analyzing each other to death” and owe their misfortune to their kinsfolk instead of blaming themselves (29-30). Analogously in modern society, while we can easily forgive our conflicts with acquaintances, people noticeably tend to be greatly annoyed by their relatives’ mistakes. We amplify our family members’ faults as if they were nakedly placed under a microscope. Just like that is described in the poem, the narrator’s whole family clearly remembers who failed them within this unit without considering their joyful days. Partly due to our biological and neural structure, humans pay greater attention to sadness and misfortunes that happen to us, especially those caused by our beloved families and partners. The son in the poem understands the fact that his whole family cannot deal with pessimistic sentiments and always hold passive attitudes towards each other.
In the poem “Families,” the narrator decides to leave his mother immediately and integrate into his new family after his ineffective communication with her. However, we should have the ability to wrestle with our pessimistic feelings and embrace an optimistic mood for the sake of a harmonious family atmosphere. Being easily influenced by negative emotions does not mean that we should be at the mercy of them and lose our control. Instead, by showing gratitude for what we have got from our families, we have the opportunity to get rid of these mean and inappropriate attitudes. Just as the mother in the poem “The Laughter in the Kitchen” suggests, she waits for the pain that makes her daughter’s face so “luminous and wise” because she believes that suffering will bring spiritual strength to her daughter and turn her into a strong woman (44). Her words indicate that sometimes we can attempt to turn gloomy affairs into our passions and experience for a new stage in our lives. Compared with the naïve son in the poem “Families” who is uncertain of his life after marriage and feels stressful, the mother in another poem shows wishful expectations for her young daughter, and she sincerely wishes that the girl can be capable of dealing with unavoidable disputes and dissatisfactions in her life. By analyzing both poems, we clearly realize that we ought to abandon passive moods and have more cheerful expectations towards our future lives.
Overall, both poems not only criticize our over-attention towards sadness and grief in family life, but they also expose the fact that in order to gain a comprehensive insight into marriage, we should experience it by ourselves rather than blindly following others’ suggestions. Given that hardship and suffering is ubiquitous in marriages to some extent, we should place more emphasis on sweet memories and romance within them. Meanwhile, people can dedicate more effort to turning pain into valuable experience. Flexibility and care can, after all, lead us to harmonious marriages and family lives.
- Glickman, Susan. “Families”. 70 Canadian Poets. Fifth Edition. Ed Gary Geddes, Di Brandt et al. Oxford. 2014. 375-376.
- Musgrave, Susan. “The Laughter in the Kitchen”. 70 Canadian Poets. Fifth Edition. Ed Gary Geddes, Di Brandt et al. Oxford. 2014. 233-234.