What is the definition of a dysfunctional family? Many would say some of the characteristics include fighting families, no disciplined children, and an unstructured disruptive environment. But, what if these common stereotypes did not exist and the family was still dysfunctional? In the literary writings Tartuffe and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, we will explore the different family dynamics and how being dysfunctional plays a part in their lives.
In Tartuffe, the matriarch of the family is Madame Pernelle, and she does not hold her tongue when speaking her mind to her family. As she so states,“ You, boy, grow more foolish every day. To think my grandson should be such dunce! I’ve said it a hundred times, if I said it once, that if you keep on the course which you’ve started, you’ll leave your worthy father broken-hearted.” (Norton; Vol. D; 2nd Edition; Pg. 315) The family’s disregard for her decision making does not sway Madame Pernelle from speaking her truths about Tartuffe. Even though she is not the main character, her disposition towards her family reveals an unhealthy dynamic. As she converses with each character, she makes it a point to expose everyone’s faults to justify her stance on revering Tartuffe as a godly man. The father in the play is Orgon, and he too takes a notable stance against his family in regard to criticizing Tartuffe’s integrity. Though he is not as forthcoming as the grandmother, he voices his distaste for his family’s dislike of Tartuffe in a manner in which he shows his dominance over his homestead.
In The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Ivan is the main character whose fascination with the social high life exceeds his ability to think for himself. He values his role in society so much that he conforms his life to fit in with the social lites. His wife is Praskovya, and she also puts on a facade when it comes to her true thoughts about her husband and his delimiting condition. Her ways were also passed down to their daughter Lisa. She carried the trait of her mother’s deceptive views. Their son Vladimir on the other hand, did not share the same views as the corrupted society around him. He chose not to engage in the bigotry exposed to him.
Orgon and Ivan’s family have similarities when it comes to showing who has dominance over the families decisions. Ivan showed his dominance in a different manner than Orgon. Ivan chose to bury himself in work rather than deal with the stresses of communicating his thoughts to others, while Orgon chooses to fight for what he believes is a relevant cause. The women of each play have different respect for the head of the household. In Tartuffe, the women hold back on what they believe is truly rational thinking while allowing all the decisions to made for them. In the Death of Ivan Ilyich, his wife voiced her opinion frequently in turn caused turmoil within their family dynamic. Because she spoke her mind vividly, she pushed Ivan away. “Ivan Ilyich looks at her, scans her all over, sets against her whiteness and plumpness and cleanness of her hands and neck, the gloss of her hair, and the sparkle of her vivacious eyes. He hates her with his whole soul. And the thrill of hatred he feels for her makes him suffer from her touch.” (Norton; Vol. E; 2nd Edition; Pg. 1451)
As we read the selections, we can truly see that it does not matter what social class one dwells from, the existence of family issues are not inevitable. Ivan and Orgon could have easily turned their backs on the unhappiness of their family situation rather than stay and deal with the corruptness of their loved ones and dear friends. We can all relate to the different situations that have been exposed in each of the plays. How we chose to handle ourselves after experiencing any type of family chaos develops our character and moral values within ourselves. And what is considered to be dysfunctional to one group of persons may be normal to another group. One cannot judge another without first realizing that exposure shapes ones mindset to what is and what is not acceptable in society.
(The Norton Anthology of World Literature; Vol. D and E)