In the following essay I would like to interpret and analyze the short story „Family Thanksgiving” by Nash Candelaria.
Nash Candelaria was born in 1928 in Los Angeles. He is referred to as a Chicano writer although he does not consider himself one. After studying and working in the scientific field he took up a rather creative job in writing stories. Several of his stories were published in a collection in 1998, which he entitled Uncivil Rights and Other Stories, including “Family Thanksgiving”.
First of all I would like to talk about the title which gives us a broad idea of what the story is about. Family Thanksgiving can be interpreted in two ways by taking it as a whole or using the words separated from each other. When considering the words family and Thanksgiving on their own we get to the following conclusion: Family refers to the constellation the celebration is held within for the only time in the year. All other celebrations might be held within the nuclear family. When referring to Thanksgiving then we think of a holiday embedded in the American tradition, one of the most widely celebrated communal gatherings within the country. This typical celebration shows that this family is fully integrated into the American culture. When taking both words into consideration as a whole, we notice that this might be the only holiday when the whole family comes together. It might also be the most important one, for instance, because they are not getting together for the mother’s birthday, for example. It also seems that this is a rather obligatory event. This is the time when the whole family has to meet and celebrate with their mother and mother-in-law respectively.
Secondly, I would like to analyze the story’s content and the literary elements used in the story. The story contains a lot of direct speech, which lets us imagine a lively family holiday with lots of talking, teasing and laughing. We can also sympathize with the atmosphere because of the use of dialogue. By using the colloquial language we get the impression of normal people coming together for a family event and talking about what is happening in their lives. It is also easier to empathize with them when the readers are aware of the complex history of the family.
In the story there are different frequencies established. First of all, there is the scene that occurs every time where there is direct speech. Secondly, we can find summaries, like in the beginning when the protagonist tells about her family history. This briefly gives the reader the possibility to get to know the circumstances under which the family lives and what difficulties it might had to undergo. Again, this helps the reader to understand the family’s history better.
There are two possible ways of analyzing the narrative situation by using Stanzel’s and Genette’s model. According to Stanzel’s theory of narrative situations, this short story is a 1st person narration, because one can find the personal pronoun “I,” which refers to the protagonist Irene, who is actually telling the story. When using Genette’s model of narrative situations one finds the narration as being homodiegetic, because the narrator is part of the story world and very overt, thereby becoming very visible to the reader. Also the protagonist tells the story through her point of view and is therefore the foculizer in this narration.
There are several characters introduced in the story. First of all there is Irene, the protagonist. She is unmarried, has no children and works as a public defender. Her mother lives in the old family house and is very proud of her family coming together for Thanksgiving. Irene has four siblings; Dan, Lisa and Marta, who are all married and have children and Sammy, who is the youngest. Irene’s brothers-in-law and her nieces and nephews play a rather under part. Moreover, Irene’s dad and her grandmother are mentioned only briefly. Also, Irene is said to have a boyfriend, Robert, who we do not get to know any closer within the scope of the story. But we do get to know that her mother would like to marry her Robert. Irene, though, does not want to, because she does not have any feelings for him. Instead, she would rather agree on a sexual relationship. Of course her family cannot cope with that, because they lead religious lives. Her sister, for example is disturbed by the fact that Irene would not have a problem with establishing only a sexual relationship. Anyway, Irene and her sister Marta seem to be very close, because they go on a short walk before dinner and Irene talks to Marta in great trust about her relationship with Robert.
The story also implies a part of a nursery rhyme and “The Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is mentioned, too. This again shows us that the family is very much integrated into the American life and Western traditions. However, they do not forget where they come from. For instance, they do have Mexican food besides the traditional turkey for Thanksgiving, but still they are celebrating an American holiday together. Although we could consider several parts of the story as referring to a very Mexican or American way of living, we cannot define if this family is either one or the other of them. But we can say that this family definitely belongs to both cultures. By keeping alive Mexican traditions and bringing in the American culture they fully integrate themselves into their multicultural life. However, I would like to explain and interpret some of these elements to make this clear.
First of all, there are a lot of terms which are used in Spanish language only or can be referred to as Mexican colloquialisms, e.g. chango, which is the word for a South-American inhabitant. Usually, this word is used by Mexican or Mexican-American people only. If used by Americans they would be understood as being insulting. Also the passionate exchanges that are displayed in the story are a very typical aspect of Latin-American culture. And of course there is the Mexican food they have prepared for the Thanksgiving meal. The mother’s specialties are “chili rellenos,” which are poblano peppers stuffed with either meat or cheese and then fried in corn or egg batter. This is also a tribute towards the family’s Mexican roots. When referring to American habits, we come back to food. The turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving dinner. It is stuffed and served with a plethora of side dishes. The Turkey is a symbol for the national holiday that was declared by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was meant to bring everyone to the table and to make peace among them. Therefore, Thanksgiving and the turkey are fundamental to American culture and history. Furthermore, when Irene talks about the house her mother is living in, we get to know that this house has been family property for several generations now. We can therefore suspect that, if Mexican or American, they are very close to their roots and they know exactly where they come from because of their physically defined “home.” Again, we do find certain elements that make us believe we can tell which culture they belong. But in reality the family has its own culture by combining the elements they can cope with.
If we think about the jobs Irene and her brother have, we notice that they have a well-paid job which places them into a good life situation. They are both integrated into the society by taking on responsible positions. By doing so, they are rejecting several stereotypes and show that they are able to take up a responsible position in society just like anyone else, meaning the stereotypical Caucasian American.
Despite the fact that Dan is Mexican himself, he makes fun of the illegal immigrants who his sister Irene defends by calling them “wetbacks”. That is why Irene says, “Heil Hitler!” She shows him that way how foolish he acts and indirectly points out that he is a Dummkopf. Because she is proud of her family coming together for Thanksgiving, the mother goes over to a neighbor’s house in order to tell her lonely neighbor that the mother’s children are there with their families. Although her kids are fighting with and teasing each other while she is absent, she thinks of her family’s dynamic as being very harmonic. She also thinks that it has always been this way among the siblings and therefore is very happy when the whole family surrounds her. The family coming together around the mother is a very rare occurrence, and the mother delights in this uncommon gathering, which does not even happen for her lonely neighbor, whose family is absent on Thanksgiving. Somehow or other the mother convinces herself that she has such a great family to make her happy on this special family holiday.