I’ve noticed something of a trend in my writing, and I’m not sure I like what it says about me. Regardless of how hard I try not to do so, I constantly find myself writing about family—not necessarily my family, but family in general. I have for years now been struggling with my definition of the word “family,” and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a generational struggle.
What does family mean? Is it a word used to describe someone (or someones) who you love deeply? Someone you’d die for? Someone with whom you share genes? The latter seems weak to me. Am I more obligated to one person over another because we are biologically related? Surely not, yet this seems to be the most common conception of family.
I’ve been doing a little research on the etymology of the word “family,” and it turns out it’s derived from the Latin word meaning “household servant” or “slave.” Interesting, huh? That doesn’t exactly scream “I love you.”
The protagonist of the story I’m currently working on is torn between his familial responsibilities and his own personal desires. He constantly finds himself unable to satisfy one obligation without scarfing the other, and this is the driving force behind his greatest internal conflicts. Now I learn the origins of the word “family,” and suddenly his struggles take on a whole new meaning.
Sam (my protagonist) definitely feels like he is enslaved by his family, and while he does love them, he wants nothing more than to break free from their grasp. Even more hauntingly, though, he finds throughout the plot of the novel that he has much more in common with his family members than he wants to admit. One situation after another draws out of him the negative qualities that he so disdains in his mother, father, and sister, and he discovers that even if moves across the country, he will never truly be free from his family because they are a part of him.
I’m still not sure I understand the enigma that is the family. I constantly find myself asking, “Do I love my family less than most people love their own? Am I missing some piece of the puzzle that is supposed to be clear?” Maybe time will tell.
Photo courtesy of lovstromp.