Parenthood and _Lost_: an inquiry


First things first:  I’m writing about Lost, and there may be spoilers here for those who haven’t been keeping up with new episodes.  Just so you know.

I’m a big fan of French literary theorist Roland Barthes’ moderately controversial 1967 essay “The Death of the Author.”  For those of you unfamiliar with it, the most significant argument he makes is that authorial intention and/or biography shouldn’t really play much of a role in the analysis of a work of art.  He’s not saying that authors don’t have specific things they intend to communicate in their works, or that their personal experiences don’t influence their work.  He’s just saying that sometimes meanings and interpretations of art works go beyond those intended by the creators of those works.  A work might express something beyond, or other than, what its author wanted to express.  Barthes argued that critics should pay attention to the work itself and what it does to generate meaning rather than only paying attention to what the creator of that work intended it to mean.

All this is preamble to the real point of this post.  The t.v. show Lost may be about a bunch of things, and its writers may have wanted it to mean or suggest certain specific things.  BUT…it’s become increasingly apparent to me lately that one of the major themes of the series that gets hammered on incessantly is that of parental responsibility and the dangers of the abdication thereof.  Whether the writers are conscious of it is not my concern.  I’m just saying I think it’s something the series itself is communicating.  And, yes, there are lots of other issues being addressed, too—religious faith, trust, destiny, leadership, sacrifice, manipulation, and cooperation come to mind, for instance.  But all those things, in my mind anyway, are all concerns and issues that fall under the broader thematic umbrella of parenthood.

I want my fellow Lost-ies reading this to help me out here.  I’m going to list a few notes and comments here about how this over-arching theme has manifested itself thus far in the series, and I’d really like my readers (whoever you are) to fill in some gaps for me, remind me of stuff I’ve forgotten, and correct or contradict me if you must.  Use the comments section below to toss in your two cents worth.

So, here we go.  I want to start with the literal parent-child relationships we’ve learned about in the series so far before moving on to more metaphorical flavors of this relationship.  I’m working off the top of my head here, so I’ll likely miss or misremember some things.  Here’s what I’ve got:

  • Jack’s father, Christian, is an alcoholic who kills patients cuz he operates when he shouldn’t; he has an illegitimate child (Claire) in Australia, and drinks himself to death when he realizes what a pathetic dad he is.  The need to return his corpse to the states is what puts Jack on the plane in the first place.  Oh, and in the flash-sideways Jack inexplicably has a kid of his own who plays the piano and needs a tan.
  • Claire, the daughter of the aforementioned two-timing alcoholic, is pregnant as the series begins.  She’s flying to America to give the child to an adoptive family.  She gives birth to her son Aaron on the island, and Charlie becomes sort of a surrogate dad/husband.  Oh, and Claire kinda goes crazy when Aaron is taken away from her.  She also has a voodoo doll baby that she takes care of for a while.
  • Charlie, I seem to remember—though the details are hazy now—had some weird relationship with his parents, too.  His mom bought him a piano or something when they were little.  I can’t remember the rest, but I’m sure it’s relevant.
  • Kate, who pretends to be Aaron’s mother, also happened to burn down the house of the creepy pedophile step-dad (?), which is why she’s a fugitive.  She’s desperate to return Aaron to Claire back on the island.
  • Locke’s father is a major douchebag.  He shoves his son out the window of a tall building, snapping his spine.  Or, in a more recent flash-sideways, Locke is guilt-ridden because he killed his father in his maiden voyage as a pilot.
  • Hugo’s dad abandons him as a child and doesn’t return until he learns that there’s a big fat stack of lottery winnings to be had.  Hugo’s mom continually pesters him for being a fat ass who can’t get a date.
  • Sun’s dad is a mob boss/corporate tyrant who controls her life and the life of her husband Jin.  Sun, by the way, is also pregnant and for a while we’re not sure who’s the daddy.
  • Jin, in addition to being forced to do shady things by his wife’s dad, is pretty hardcore embarrassed by his own poor fisherman father and prostitute mama.
  • James/Sawyer was hiding under a bed when his father killed his mom then killed himself.  This, as you might guess, kinda affected young James and his career choices.  Why was he on the plane in the first place?  To go kill the guy who conned his pa.
  • Ben. Oh, Ben.  He allows his daughter to be shot by that mean military dude.  And didn’t his mom get killed when he was born?  And didn’t he kinda gas his father (and Others) to death?
  • Charles Widmore is Penny’s dad.  He’s got mad cash, yo, and he doesn’t want Desmond to marry his girl or drink his fancy-ass scotch.  And he might be the biggest, baddest baddie around.  Or not.
  • Sayid’s dad taught his sons to be cruel and mocked the one who wasn’t man enough to kill a chicken.  Or something like that.
  • Michael and Walt provided yet another estranged father-son pair.  Michael was pissed that Walt’s mom took the kid away, and then later, he turns all suicidally depressed after returning home and losing touch.
  • Daniel Farraday’s mom appears to be some sort of Knight Templar or something.  She is continually disappointed by her son and works at a church with a super high-tech sub-basement.
  • Miles sees dead people and flips out on a client who never told his son he loved him.  And, oh, his dad is the Dharma Initiative guy who does all the training tapes.
  • Juliet was a fertility specialist and researcher.  She worked with Tom Cruise’s cousin Ethan giving injections to pregnant islanders.
  • Boone and Sharron had a hot love-hate semi-incestuous relationship because one of their moms got re-married the other one’s dad.
  • Then there was that weird Asian Dude at the Temple who got all sentimental over his son’s baseball.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m forgetting here, and I’d love your help in filling in the gaps.

Now, last but not least, the most recent episode I watched was all about Jacob and his twin brother Smoke Monster Man in Black who were, apparently, brought up by Alison Janney from The West Wing in a bad wig.  She loved the bad child more, but she killed him after telling Jacob to protect the magical glowing waterfall of life or whatever the hell that thing is supposed to be.  And she’s wasn’t really the boys’ mom.  She killed the mom, who (am I making this up?) might have been Richard Alpert’s wife.

In any event, this episode really brought the metaphorical parenthood issue to the forefront for me.  There’s been lots of talk throughout the series about “protecting the island.”  The island, which has enormous power, but apparently needs protecting.  There have been numerous debates about staying vs. leaving throughout the series, but the issue kinda crystallized in this most recent episode.  There are two sons—one dark, one light—who make decisions about leaving mom behind or staying with her.  This sounds fairly, suspiciously similar to an oft-retold dynamic that appears in lots of literature.  There’s a Satan/Jesus parallel here, of course, but there’s also the more common issue of competitive siblings who argue about staying home (to take care of mom, dad, the farm, the family business, the island, whatever).  One wants to make his way in the big bad world; the other stays home and gives up his personal ambitions, making the decision to sacrifice himself to the greater good.

Both sons have their own share of problems.  One feels guilty, the other feels victimized.  The parent, who had worked so hard to take care of the kids, feels betrayed by one and proud of (but sorry for) the other one.  Ultimately, though, the outcome of the plot determines for us who we’re supposed to side with.  Either we learn the valuable lesson that sometimes you have to break away from what’s comfortable and familiar in order to fulfill your destiny, OR, we learn that even though it hurts to sacrifice yourself to a higher purpose, it’s a far, far nobler thing to do.  And we learn whether we’re supposed to like or hate or pity the parent.  I have a feeling the final few episodes will let us know how we’re supposed to feel about the island, and by extension, how we’re supposed to feel about parent-child relationships.

So, yeah.  Couple ideas there for you.  Any thoughts?

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4 Responses to Parenthood and _Lost_: an inquiry

  1. Mel says:

    Agreed re: parenthood as a major (and perhaps unintended) theme in Lost. Most especially after the last episode – good boy/bad boy relationship with “mom.” I think I would expand it a bit to include not just parent/child relationships but sibling relationships as a major theme. Ah man – I just wrote that and realized that really it’s just relationships in general (the close and the far that end up close) so now I am unsure . . . . But here’s some thoughts:
    Parent/Child: your list above is great – so now . . .
    Siblings:
    – Jack and Claire – Kid from 1st family vs. 2nd – and how do they navigate from there – can they both survive? And how?
    – Jacob and his brother (did he have a name) – good vs.bad – in a biblical sense – who survives? Who dies?
    – Charlie and Liam (from the band . .. don’t remember the name) – those that escape their past and those that don’t – who survives? – Who dies of their own volition?
    – Sayid and his brother – the one that got away Sayid looses his love to his brother) – who survives? And what does it mean to survive?
    So, clearly not as many examples, but then all of it speaks to familial relationships as a theme. OK – just some thoughts while I hang out on the couch with my son on a Friday night.

    • docdlp says:

      yeah, i was thinking about siblings, too. I really liked the Boone/Shannon relationship, esp. in season one. AND, Mr. Eko and his brother. I have to say I tend to be more fascinated by the characters who they killed off or otherwise did away with, e.g. all the aforementioned plus Libby, Charlie, the diamond smugglers, Rose and her Dentist husband, the real Locke.

  2. Sarah Crockarell says:

    Also, Ben’s “daughter,” Alex, who got killed by that scary guy, is actually Rousseau’s kid who he stole from her. There was a long time during the 1st/2nd seasons, I think, when the Others were sort of characterized by their child-stealing tendencies. Then, there’s the whole matter of “kids can’t be born on the island if they were conceived on the island,” etc, etc.

    Basically, one of the show creators read Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” and thought, “What this needs is a Smoke Monster!”

  3. Will says:

    and for it to make less sense!

    And be really stupid at the end!

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