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Jaafar Alqallaf

English 113B
Professor Lawson
April 30th, 2016
Project Text: Rough Draft
1312

What Constitutes a Family?


During the middle of the 20th century, the American family was defined as having
a mother, father, and generally two or more children. This was not always the case, but
the nuclear family as this type of family was called was the image that Americans held
onto as they thought about what about constituted a family. Since then, a lot has changed,
and the nuclear family, while not rare, is definitely not the only type of family around.
Today, it is common to see families headed by gay and lesbian couples as well as families
that are headed by a single mother. The change in the family structure has had some
impact on society as old ideas about the family no longer hold true and people are forced
to become more tolerant of families that were once considered abnormal. Despite these
changes, these families do not resemble the ones in Lois Lowrys The Giver, a short
novel which shows how the family unit has been altered by the Committee of Elders
which only permits certain women to have children and does not let parents raise their
biological children. Although the family unit has been greatly altered in Lowrys short
novel, it is still the foundation of the community much like the American family remains
the foundation of American society despite its changes.
In the United States, the definition of family has changed over the last few
decades so that it now includes almost anyone living under the same roof. Unlike the

nuclear family which had a mother and father, todays families can have two mothers or
two mothers or just a mother or father. In some cases, there might even grandparents
might be raising children or older children might be raising younger ones when there are
no other legal guardians. According to Agata Kozak, author of Post-Modern Changes in
Martial and Family Life, the authoritarian, patriarchal, multifunctional, and
multigenerational traditional family, with the father as its sole breadwinner, has turned
into a nuclear, democratic, independent, not numerous contemporary family (74).
Kozaks analysis shows that no definition of the family is permanent since this definition
is going to change with time and circumstances. In Lowrys novel, the family does not
even look like the one that Kozak writes about, and is instead completely foreign to any
American family that currently exists. For example, early in the novel, Jonass father is
described as a Nurturer who was responsible for all the physical and emotional needs
of every newchild during its earliest life. It was a very important job (7). Assigning one
group of people the role of nurturer is strange, and it is even stranger that the nurturer are
often men since, in American society, this role is mostly associated with women.
Furthermore, by taking the nurturing aspect away from the biological parents, the family
unit is shown to have little importance when raising children, demonstrating just how far
the definition of family has moved.
The changing family has presented problems for the law which has not been able
to keep up with these changes. In the article, Two Steps Behind: The Laws Struggle to
Keep Pace with the Changing Dynamics of the American family, researcher Jason
Merrill says how the law his struggled to accommodate alternative families...because the
traditional family form remains the primary influence in the creation of family law and

policy (557). The definition of what constitutes a family has shifted, but the law has
failed to keep up with this shift and is still stuck in the past. This has led to many legal
problems for alternative families, not to mention discrimination from people who think
that alternative families are destroying American society by adopting lifestyles that are
not beneficial to the children in these families. What these people do not realize is that,
even though the family structure has changed, people still form families, and the family
still supports each other and looks at for the interests of its members. This contrasts with
how family is portrayed in The Giver which is shown by how children, once adults with
their own families, cut off contact with their parents. In the United States, many children
move away from their mothers and fathers when they are older as they go to college or
find a job in a different part of the country. However, it is rare for a child to completely
cut off contact with his or her parents, and when one does, other people know that there is
a problem. The American family might not look like it once did, but the family unit is
still together which is more than can be said about family units in The Giver.
Another major change that has occurred in the American family has been the rise
in interracial families as more black and white people marry and have children. Not too
long ago, it was unheard of for black and white people to marry and have children,
although today it is much more common. Writing in the Journal of Marriage and Family,
Americas growing mixed-raced population also is linked with interracial marriage
trendsAmericans today are clearly more tolerant of interracial marriage than in the
past (1068). Although it is not clear whether the tolerance came before or after the
interracial marriage, what matters is that, for the most part, Americans tolerate this
change. In The Giver, there is no tolerance for difference, and anyone who has a different

skin color is shunned. As the Giver explains, there was a time, actuallywhen flesh was
many different colors. That was before we went to Sameness. Today flesh is all the same,
and what you saw was the red ones (94). This intolerance extends to the family, and
shows that, unlike in the United States, there is no room for change in what constitutes a
family. While family diversity is tolerated in the United States, in the novel the Elders see
it as threatening social harmony which leads them to encourage Sameness and shun
anyone who is different.
Finally, many of the changes that have occurred in the American family have
resulted from economic changes. According to Teachman, Tedrow, and Crowder, many
men and women have placed their careers over having families, and poverty has often
meant that more women are having children while unmarried. As American women
spend a smaller fraction of their childbearing years in marriage, the opportunity for
nonmarital childbearing increases, the researchers write, adding that this helps to explain
the proportion of children born outside of marriage (1239). Many of these children are
raised by single mothers and without father figures in their lives. To say that a family run
by a single mother is not a family, however, is wrong, since many of these mothers
nurture their children and try to provide as much as they can for them by working hard
and striving to meet their emotional needs. These families contribute to society in many
positive ways, and so, along with other types of families, become the foundation of
society. Without these families, people would be alone like they are in The Giver, and
there would be less social cohesion than there is now since everybody would look out for
their own interests and would not consider the needs of others.
Lois Lowrys short novel, The Giver, presents a dystopian society where the

family no longer resembles anything that people can related to today. In this dystopian
society, men become Nurturers, motherhood is seen as a profession, and biological
children are cut off from their biological parents. Changes in the American family have
come over time as well, but these changes are nothing like what is presented in Lowrys
novel. Still, these changes do illustrate that the definition of family does change and will
probably continue to change even as the family remains the foundation of American
society.

Works Cited
Kozak, Agata. "Post-modern Changes in Marital and Family Life." Journal of Education
Culture

and Society, 2011.1 (2011): 73-79. Print.

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Random House, 1993.


Merrill, Jason M. "Two Steps Behind: The Law's Struggle to Keep Pace with the
Changing Dynamics of the American Family." Utah Law Review, 2009.2 (2009):
557-563. Print
Teachman, Jay D, Lucky M Tedrow, and Kyle D Crowder. "The Changing Demography
of

America's Families." Journal of Marriage and Family, 62.4 (2000): 1234-

1246. Print.
Qian, Zhenchao, and Daniel T Lichter. "Changing Patterns of Interracial Marriage in a
Multiracial Society." Journal of Marriage and Family, 73.5 (2011): 1065
1084. Print.