Class notes discussion of family in US Lit

Based on essay 3 in the previous post, here is the copy of the notes promised to the Upper 6th. The ideas discussed in the lesson….

How is the ‘family’ presented in the literature which you have studied? Use Huck and Gatsby in your planning.

Establish ‘family’ in US context:


  • Lies at heart of society through the original settlers – God’s work to breed and fill the new lands
  • Establishing stereotypical roles and gender profiles
  • A way to achieve Manifest Destiny by creating a solid unit to settle in any single location
  • Seen in a Christian context as a duty to marry and procreate -thus families are part of conformity
  • Family does not automatically suggest probity, however is often presented as such (old money). Can obscure the reality of a more hypocritical and grasping unit.
  • Nation as a family? President as a Pater Familias figure – did the revolution begin to lessen the role of the ruler as Americans defined themselves as individuals?



Thematic  ideas:


  • Nuclear family vs Individual: Jimmy Gatz leaving home. He does not value society. G buys a house for the parents who revere his success. G has not viewed family as his parents – he sees them as holding him back. In this sense the family is seen as hindering individual progress. Dream becomes increasingly individualistic. His ‘family’ – the partygoers are not interested. Nor is his surrogate father present -Wolfshiem
  • Individualism actively works against the idea of the family.
  • Modernisation allows for individuals to escape the family.
  • Family honour – the feud – total destruction of family at variance to the idea of procreation
  • Nuclear families defined by Race – are black families able to be presented as nuclear?  Suggestive of the lack of stability in black society. Slavery leads to the destruction of the black family unit.
  • Names confers status and ownership. To deny a family name is to reduce the character to an individual.
  • Emergence of a new stereotype – the cowboy – loner and self reliant – actively rejects the family as a concept. 1930s Steinbeck highlighting the danger of lack of family
  • By 1920s economics have changed -wealth replaces family as a religion and family values die down.
  • Family should be safety and protection – is this actually what is presented?