In the short story, “Sunday in the Park” by Bel Kaufman, a mother and father are enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon at a park with their child, Larry, who is happily playing in the sandbox. The serene atmosphere abruptly changes when another child in the sandbox throws sand at Larry. Larry’s mother intervenes and instructs the child not to throw sand, but to her astonishment, the child’s father actually encourages his behavior. The mother is left speechless by this apparent lack of empathy from the other father. In response, Morton, Larry’s father, decides to take action.
When Morton attempts to reason with the other father, he is threatened with the words, “’You and who else? ’“(Kaufman 1). Feeling intimidated, Morton decides to retreat with his family. The mother criticizes Morton for his weakness and inability to stand up for the family and their son. Furious and humiliated, the father expresses dissatisfaction with the mother’s approach to disciplining their child and takes it upon himself to properly discipline their son. However, the mother opposes any scolding or discipline from him and threatens him with the same threat uttered by the other child’s father.
The tone of “Sunday in the Park” changes multiple times throughout the short story. Initially, the story portrays a cheerful and calming moment as the family relaxes at the park. However, when sand is thrown at Larry, the atmosphere becomes tense. The most suspenseful moment occurs when the other father and Morton exchange naked glances, forcing Morton to decide between fighting or fleeing. Ultimately, he chooses flight and retreats with his family. As they retreat, the tone of the story becomes accusatory and shameful.
The mother and Morton engage in an argument, placing blame on each other. The abrupt and shocking ending of “Sunday in the Park” occurs. The mother poses a rhetorical question to Morton, saying, “You and who else?” (Kaufman 4). This statement holds significance as another father had previously used the same line to intimidate Morton. The author’s descriptive portrayal of characters and scenery in “Sunday in the Park” contributes to its extensive imagery and symbolism: “The swing and seesaws stood motionless and abandoned, the slides were empty, and only in the sandbox two little squatted diligently side by side” (Kaufman 1).
The quote provided showcases the author’s dedication to providing detailed descriptions within the story. Through just this sentence, a clear and vivid image of the scene can be formed. The emphasis on imagery in regards to the setting is particularly strong in this short story, primarily due to the fact that there is only one setting in “Sunday in the Park.” Kaufman aims for the readers to truly comprehend and envision the environment in which the characters exist. By incorporating extensive imagery, the author intends to establish a stronger connection between the reader and the narrative, allowing them to visually experience the images being portrayed.
The main theme in “Sunday in the Park” appears to be standing up for one’s beliefs. Despite facing a threatening individual, the mother in the story bravely defends her own convictions. However, when she is unable to do so, her husband Morton supports her. This story also explores an important theme: the reversal of traditional gender roles. In “Sunday in the Park,” the men take on the role of protecting their family, challenging societal expectations.
However, this contradicts Morton’s inability to confront the other father, resulting in his family retreating. Kaufman demonstrates that Morton lacks strength and confidence, which are not qualities of a protector. In their culture, women seek assistance from men when necessary. For instance, when the other father was disrespectful to the mother, she turned to Morton for help because he was the head of the family. Furthermore, when Larry’s mother tried to locate the parents of the other child, she instinctively sought out the child’s mother first.
Traditionally, women are more inclined to stay at home and care for the children compared to men. When Larry’s mother couldn’t find the mother of the other children, she quickly looked around the park for females. She observed “two women, and a little girl on roller skates [and then noticed the] man on a bench a few feet away” (Kaufman 1). Nowadays, people generally associate parenting with women and men are seldom mentioned in discussions about parenthood.