4 Stories About the Generation Gap

Parents and Their Adult Children

The phrase "generation gap" often brings to mind images of kindergartners who can fix their parents' computers, grandparents who can't operate the TV, and a wide range of people scowling at each other across the years over long hair, short hair, piercings, politics, diet, work ethic, hobbies -- you name it.

But as the four stories on this list demonstrate, the generation gap plays out in very particular ways between parents and their grown children, all of whom seem happy to judge each other even as they resent being judged. 

Antique silver brush and mirror.
Image courtesy of ~Pawsitive~N_Candie.

The father and mother in Ann Beattie's "The Stroke," as the mother observes, "love to bitch at each other." Their grown children have come to visit, and the two parents are in their bedroom, complaining about their kids. When they're not complaining about their kids, they're complaining about the unpleasant ways in which the kids have taken after the other parent. Or they're complaining that the other parent is complaining too much. Or they're complaining about how critical their children are of them.

But as petty (and often funny) as these arguments seem, Beattie also manages to show a much deeper side to her characters, demonstrating how little we really understand the people closest to us. More »

Quilt.
Image courtesy of lisaclarke.

The two sisters in Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use,' Maggie and Dee, have very different relationships with their mother. Maggie, who still lives at home, respects her mother and carries on the traditions of the family. For instance, she knows how to quilt, and she also knows the stories behind the fabrics in the family's heirloom quilts.

So Maggie is the exception to the generation gap so often represented in literature. Dee, on the other hand, seems its archetype. She is enamored of her new-found cultural identity and convinced that her understanding of her heritage is superior to and more sophisticated than her mother's. She treats her mother's (and sister's) life like an exhibit in a museum, one better understood by the astute curator than by the participants themselves. More »

Wedding cake.
Image courtesy of Rexness.

As Granny Weatherall approaches death, she finds herself annoyed and frustrated that her daughter, the doctor, and even the priest treat her as if she's invisible. They patronize her, ignore her, and make decisions without consulting her. The more they condescend to her, the more she exaggerates and insults their youth and inexperience.

She considers the doctor as "pudgy," a word often reserved for children, and she thinks, "The brat ought to be in knee britches." She relishes the thought that one day, her daughter will be old and have children of her own children to whisper behind her back.

Ironically, Granny ends up acting like a petulant child, but given that the doctor keeps calling her "Missy" and telling her to "be a good girl," a reader can hardly blame her.    More »

Spiral.
Image courtesy of brian.

Unlike the other stories on this list, Christine Wilks' "Tailspin" is a work of electronic literature. It uses not just written text, but also images and audio. Instead of turning pages, you use your mouse to navigate through the story. (That alone smacks of a generation gap, doesn't it?)

The story focuses on George, a grandfather who's hard of hearing. He clashes endlessly with his daughter over the question of a hearing aid, he constantly snaps at his grandchildren over their noise, and he generally feels left out of conversations. The story does a brilliant job of sympathetically representing multiple points of view, past and present.  More »

Thicker than Water

With all the bickering in these stories, you'd think someone would just get up and leave. No one does (though it's fair to say that Granny Weatherall probably would if she could). Instead, they stick with each other, same as always. Perhaps all of them, just like the parents in "The Stroke," are wrestling with the awkward truth that although they "don't like the children," they "do love them, though."
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Sustana, Catherine. "4 Stories About the Generation Gap." ThoughtCo, Aug. 22, 2016, thoughtco.com/stories-about-the-generation-gap-2990559. Sustana, Catherine. (2016, August 22). 4 Stories About the Generation Gap. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/stories-about-the-generation-gap-2990559 Sustana, Catherine. "4 Stories About the Generation Gap." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/stories-about-the-generation-gap-2990559 (accessed November 22, 2017).