Elizabeth Joan Jennings (July 18, 1926 – October 26, 2001) was an English poet noted for her clarity of style and simplicity of literary approach. Her Roman Catholicism colored much of her work. She always made it clear that, whilst her life, which includes a spell of severe mental illness, contributed to the themes contained within her work, she did not write explicitly autobiographical poetry.
Elizabeth Jennings’ “Father to Son” highlights the theme of the generation gap, which crops up due to a lack of communication, acceptance, and change of views and ideas. The poem reveals the internal conflict that a father undergoes when his son grows up and has his own interests, ideas, and perceptions.
In “Father to Son,” the father complains that he does not understand his own child. The father wonders that although they have been living together since his birth, the father knows nothing of his son. The father had tried to build up a connection with his son when his son first began to recognize people around when he desperately tried to crawl and walk. The father is pondering whether he has destroyed the seed of his offspring or has sown it in a land where it belongs to his heir and none of his.
Both the son and the father speak to each other as strangers, and there seems to be no understanding between the two. There is a silence between the two. There is no common ground of interest between the two. The father feels awkward in trying to figure out why his own son has turned into an absolute stranger. The father says that his child is built to his design, which means that the son is the design of his father. So he should resemble his father though the current picture says something else.
The father sees his son as ‘the prodigal son’ who is spendthrift and would soon return to his father’s house, which was once his very own. The father is willing to forgive him at any cost so that he returns to his father’s home instead of moving out into a new house and falling into unnecessary trouble due to his young age. The son also admits that he is even struggling to understand himself. He does feel the sadness related to the broken relationship he has with his father.
Elizabeth Jennings says that fathers and sons all over the world should learn to live on the same globe and in the same land. In the end, the father has a realization that he is the one who cannot understand himself and gets angry. The father concludes that each one of them is willing to forgive the other. Respecting each other’s differences is the only way out to diminish the distance between parents and children.
About “The Prodigal Son” story:
‘The Prodigal Son’ is a Biblical reference from the New Testament’s parables of Jesus. The story is of a father with two sons. The younger demanded his inheritance despite the fact that traditionally, the eldest born is the heir. The father accedes, and the spoilt younger son leaves home. He spends his fortune foolishly, eventually returning to his father’s house with barely a stitch of cloth on his body. The father forgives him and welcomes him into his embrace with open arms and a celebratory feast.
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Updated by Anjali Roongta on 21st April 2023
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