Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thomas Hudson - father figure?

In an idle moment I was looking at some of the Google queries that have drawn people to this blog and came across this one: Islands in the stream why Tom isn’t a father figure.

An interesting point. It’s presumably a question someone has been asked for a term essay or the like – people tend to be very literal in Google requests, I find. So, let’s think about it: is Thomas Hudson a father figure or not?

Well, the first thing to say is that at least the boys didn’t die on his watch, which is pretty much what you were expecting to happen all the way through. David and Andrew actually die when they are back with their mother and the older brother, Tom, dies in the war. Thomas is clear that he wants the boys to learn on their own terms. He won’t push them into anything, but nor will he stop them. Twice – after David is nearly attacked by a shark and later when he has battled to land a giant fish for a whole day (only to lose it right at the end) does Thomas feel that he should have intervened earlier. It is clear that he is devoted to his art, and I suppose it could be argued that the art comes before thoughts of fatherhood, but nonetheless he still seems, to me, to demonstrate a degree of paternal watchfulness.

It could be argued that there is a casualness to his behaviour. The (very funny) scene where they all role-play a drunken argument in the bar could be argued as irresponsible because it revolves around the premise of the youngest child getting (or at least giving the appearance of getting) drunk on gin. But this could also be seen as a bonding exercise: it wasn’t about getting drunk, it was about the group working together against ‘outsiders’.

If Thomas Hudson is not a father figure, the two most likely men who could be seen to act in that role are Roger and Eddy. Certainly, the younger boys look up to both men, and Roger, in particular, is very close to them. Roger, the failed artist, is presumably meant to be the contrast with Thomas Hudson, the successful one, and therefore if anyone is likely to be described as the father figure it would be Roger: failed at art, good at relationships, the opposite of Thomas Hudson.

There is certainly some merit to that theory. However, it is striking that both Roger and Eddy are involved in dramatic fights in the story – Eddy with all and sundry because they wouldn’t believe the story of David and the fish; and Roger with the agitated sailor who wouldn’t take a telling. Throughout, it is Thomas Hudson who acts with restraint. Now, this could be argued two ways: firstly, that Thomas Hudson is so wrapped up in himself and his art that he doesn’t engage in the everyday life of the community (and his family); or that he is showing parental responsibility.

The final word probably goes to the boys. Do they show any fear of their father, or discontent, or disapproval? Well, there is a certain distance, perhaps. The older brother. Tom, seems to relate to his father better, mostly because they have shared memories of living in Paris, which the other two brothers are too young to remember. But, that apart, the boys show every sign of having had a fine holiday. And both of them develop through the summer. They are seen to grow and mature.

Therefore, I would say that Thomas Hudson, for all his flaws, spent a fine last summer with his boys.

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