"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
This is the opening line in the book Anna Karenina. One time when I was googling the quote I found a thread of someone who was asking about the meaning of the quote on yahoo answers. The reply he got was this:
"Happy families understand human nature, not in an abstract way, but in a practical way that allows the fulfilment of its members. Since happy families follow nature and are tuned with those natural needs they're all very much alike. Unhappy families march to the particular flaws of the individuals within it and therefore don't function according to nature or as a family. The unhappiness within each unhappy family is uniquely their own path."
I though this reply was pretty much spot on. However, I do see a common thread in "unhappy" (or dysfunctional) families. How else can I explain that I can relate so much to people who come from different backgrounds and have had a different family experience? How else can I explain that when I read certain books, or watch certain films, I feel like I have known the characters my whole life? That I deeply know and understand them.
Yesterday I watched "Rumble Fish". The first time I saw the film, in my late teens, I was completely drawn to this film in a way that I could not explain. After all, what did a Spanish girl from an average working family have in common with a guy (Rusty James) from Tulsa who was involved in gangs, and had an alcoholic father? But somehow at the time I felt like I knew this character and his brother so much. Watching the film yesterday I saw so much more than I did when I saw it the first time. I saw that the main character, Rusty James, is just desperate to be seen by his father and his brother. That he had been brought up being left entirely to his own devices and, while in his case this was very extreme, since the father is an alcoholic; I also, except for the basics, had been brought up left to my own devices, with no one to give me guidance or direction of any kind. Brought up as if we were invisible, or at best, as a background prop to someone else's life. This disconnection seems to me to be the most common denominator in dysfunctional families.
There was another idea in the film that I also deeply related to. See what you think of this conversation between Rusty James and his father while they're discussing the older brother:
Maybe it had something to do with her upbringing, which apparently wasn’t easy. Ms. Hinton is still now a very private person, but she has described her mother as abusive: “when I was writing she’d come into my room, grab my hair and throw me in front of the TV, she’d say, ‘You’re part of this family – now act like it.’”
Whatever it was, she could identify with people who felt they didn’t fit in, and she was able to observe the young boys in her neighbourhood with their gangs, and family problems, and just the terrible struggles of growing up, and she was able to write about it as if she was one of them."
She was able to write as if she was one of them because she WAS one of them: another "motherless" child left to her own devices and being made to act as "part of a family" as a prop in the background.