One form of literature which seems to be deep-rooted in Western culture is the tragedy. It is an art form that is based on the concept of suffering in human beings. Tragedy as an art form can trace its origins to the ancient Greek theaters of Athens in the 500's B.C.. From this beginning, tragedy has evolved through the centuries and continues as an art form to this very day. Each country has developed its own idea of tragedy based on that country's traditions, problems, and social tension. In the United States, one common source of tragedy, especially in the post-World War II period, was divorce and its effects on the family structure. Divorce was not widely accepted by American society until the time after the war, before then, divorce was stigmatized throughout society. And the children of divorce were also stigmatized throughout most of American history. But as a result of World War II and America's prominence as a world superpower, American society changed its view from a closed-minded parochial society to a more wide-ranging cosmopolitan one. One effect of this was a loosening of moral restrictions on divorce, and a greater acceptance of divorce throughout society. This in turn led to more people getting divorced instead of enduring cruel torment or loveless marriages. But it also had its effect on the children of those couples who had to live with the emotional scars of a broken home. One example of the emotional shock that divorce can have on a child is Richard Ford's Great Falls, a short story that details the tragedy of a 1960's American divorce.
Told from the point-of-view of a child in his early teens who was present when his family was torn apart, Great Fall was the quintessential American tragedy and as stories go, this tale was hardly unique in American society. As previously stated, the time in which this short story took place was a time when husbands and wives no longer suffered under the pretense of a happy marriage. There was an awakening of personal liberty throughout American society, and sometimes this led individuals to make difficult choices that could only end in pain and misery for all those involved. One such person was the narrator's mother, who married his father at a time when she thought that their life together would be filled with fun and adventure, and not so much "domesticity." In the past, such a woman would have suffered the long years of a life she did not want, playing the role of happy wife and mother when all the time she was miserable and depressed. Such a life led many women to the seeming comforts of drugs and alcohol and the ultimate ruin of their life. The teenaged narrator's mother would not be trapped in such a life, she made a series of choices that she thought would end her suffering, but not without introducing a great deal of suffering to those around her.
Great Falls was tragic because it depict the destruction of an American family, something that should never be taken lightly. The American family is said to be the foundation of American society and an increase in the breakup of the American family can only have detrimental effects on society as a whole. But it also has very personal consequences for all of those involved, even the innocent. That is why the breakup of the Russell family was so tragic, the decision made by Jackie's mother had lifelong effects on both Jackie and his dad. The divorce ended with Jackie's mother leaving and a destruction of the traditional mother-son relationship that seemed to be present before the divorce. Afterward, Jackie's relationship with his mother consisted of him seeing his mother "from time to time-- in one place or another, with one man or another…" (Kittredge 150) The relationship between Jack Russell, Jackie's father, and his mother was also destroyed. This led his father to eventually move to Ely, Nevada and be killed in an accident, leaving his son behind with no father and very little of a mother. If tragedy is the artistic expression of human suffering, then the breakup of the Russell family certainly qualified as tragedy, a tragedy that has been repeated millions of times throughout American society.
Jackie Russell's parents were quite an unlikely pair. His mother was two years older than his father, and his mother had graduated from college while it seems that his father was an airplane mechanic. When his father was discharged from the Air Force, his mother wanted to return to the more cosmopolitan Tacoma, Washington, but his father decided the family would remain in a small town in Montana instead. Jackie's father was a small-town man at heart and found fulfillment in the outdoors of Montana, but his mother yearned for the shine of city life. While his father was content with going to the same old bar once a week, his mother wanted to visit clubs with music and dancing. In other words, Jackie's father was a simple and boring man while his mother was an adventurer.
Because of the divide that was present between the two of them, the marriage was never destined for success. Jack Russell, the teen narrator's father, was too simple and content with his domestic life that he could not see that his wife was unhappy. His tragic inability to connect emotionally with his wife caused him to be unaware of her lack of emotional fulfillment. While dad loved mom, mom was miserable and wanted out of the marriage and by the time he began to suspect something, it was far too late. His actions on the night described in the story made it clear that he was beginning to suspect something. Jack Russell chose not to go to the Mermaid bar that night, and there was something wrong with him; as Jackie described, "some sound in his voice, something I didn't recognize." (Kittredge 131) The days and weeks leading up to the confrontation must have been terribly stressful for Jack Russell, as he began to suspect that his wife was cheating on him. The pain of rejection and betrayal by the one closest to his heart, and his inability to disclose the information. Keeping his dark suspicions must have been very difficult.
But Jack Russell must have known that when he decided to return home early that night that he would catch his wife with another man. People who suspect their spouses of infidelity do so because they have cause, slight behavioral changes in the spouse often accompany such behavior. In the days and weeks leading up to the confrontation, Jack Russell must have been building up his courage to confront his wife and alter their family forever. That is Jack's real tragedy; finally figuring out that his wife no longer wants to be with him and having to be the one who confronts her and ends the marriage. It would have been easier if his wife simply announced that she no longer wanted to be married to him, but she did not do that, she covertly enjoyed her secret life while avoiding a confrontation with her husband. It was up to Jack Russell to discover his wife's infidelity and then make the decision to do something about it, something that would change all of their lives forever.
Jackie's father Jack Russell was a tragic figure who ultimately married the wrong woman and paid the price for it many years later. Jack Russell loved his wife and wanted her to love him as well, she did not. Unrequited love is one of the most tragic things a person can suffer, and Jack Russell's love for his wife continued while his wife's love for him fizzled out. His dream of a long and happy marriage, growing old and dying together ended the night of the story; and he was forced to throw the woman he loved out of his home forever. Jack Russell's life was dramatically changed by the actions of his wife, he no longer had a wife but was a single parent. But most of all, Jack Russell was rejected by the one person who told him she would love him forever, his wife.
Jackie's mother is also a tragic figure in this story as she is the one who was trapped in a life she did not want, but unable to break free. In order to end her life of domesticity, she would have to hurt those around her: her husband and child. She did not have the courage to do that, she could not bring herself to make the decision to end her marriage. She was a college-educated woman who, in the 1960's, became aware of her place in society as a woman, and it was not being a housewife. Many housewives at that time abruptly became aware that they no longer had to suffer the torments of a life they…