At the Kitchen Table

I've always felt a tiny bit smothered by my family.

Not because they're bad people. Not at all! I've got a wonderful, loving, Norman-Rockwell-perfect family.

And that's, in some ways, what smothers me.

See--I'd love to travel the world. Live in weird, exotic places. Do bad things that make me a legend. Rebel. Not care about a damn thing.

But I do care...because my family cares about me, and I don't want to disappoint them. I don't want to leave them behind.

In AMONG THE HIDDEN, nearly all of Luke's actions are directly influenced by his family. He elects to be locked up in his attic based on their guidance. He accepts his positions as a hidden child based on their fears. He ultimately decides to not act on Jenna's suggestions in part because of fear for repercussions to his family.

But it all--from the fear to the hiding--is based on love.

That's what got me the most while reading AMONG THE HIDDEN. At the root of it all, Luke's parents forced him into solitary perpetual confinement because they loved him. And he accepted lifetime imprisonment because he loved them. More effective than any stone walls or metal locks is, simply, love.

That's something the Government didn't understand, not at all. Jenna's father, who works for the Government, acted out of love for his daughter, though neither Luke or Jen really realized that before. His fear of the very Government he worked for was nothing compared to his love for his daughter. A family is more powerful than any Government.

A bit fortuitously, I came across a poem, "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo, while writing this post. The poem is about the kitchen table, and how so much of our lives start there. It reads: "The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, / we must eat to live." As the poem goes on, the reader becomes aware of how much of our lives are centered on that table. "It is here that children are given instructions on what / it means to be human. We make men at it, / we make women."

How different would AMONG THE HIDDEN be if there was no kitchen table? Such an innocuous piece of furniture, but the story itself starts there, at the kitchen table, and Luke's imprisonment starts there, too. His family gathers for meals at the beginning of the novel, and Luke's place is swept away and hidden when visitors come to call. When the Barons move in next door, Luke no longer even has a place there--instead, he's stuck on the stairs, along, separated from his family who gather around the table for their meal.

Harjo's poem ends sadly: "Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, / while we are laughing and crying, / eating of the last sweet bite."

AMONG THE HIDDEN doesn't end at the kitchen table...but in a way, it does. Once Luke is shunted from the family table, he can no longer really be a part of the family. He can't hear their conversations, he can't participate, he's left silent and alone on the stairs. If his world had had just enough stability to keep him at the kitchen table, none of the other events that led to the end of the novel would have happened. It's because he had to leave the table that he had to leave his family.


Mandy P.S. said...

I concur. The moment he had to stop eating at the dinner table, he stopped being a part of the family.

The dinner table is so important to a family, and so much conversation and bonding happens over it. I think too many people underestimate its importance.

Jemi Fraser said...

So true - the scene of Luke on the stairs breaks my heart. It's such a sucker punch.

Love the poem about the table - so much is taught through incidentals, through small moments. I'll treasure mine all the more.

Angie Smibert said...

Yes poor Luke sitting on the stairs was heartbreaking. It was the first step away from the family and out into the world. Nice post, Beth.

Julia said...

When times are hard and families are at risk - sometimes one is forced to grow up (leave the family table) before they should have to. I, too, was heart-broken when Luke had to sit on the stairs - exiled by the very people who were supposed to love him. But, how do you feel love when you are excluded and alone? That was his beginning of real growth - as painful as it had to be.

Marcia said...

Great post! The kitchen table has such power as a symbol because it has such REAL power.

Unknown said...

Great points everyone! I felt like I was rambling a bit--glad you guys could see what I was trying to say :)

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, now I'm feeling all bad that I only eat dinner at the kitchen table a couple times a week. Great points, though! Relationships are often fostered over dinner, and Luke becomes more and more isolated when that's taken from him.