Response to Andre Dubus’ “Digging”

Andre Dubus portrays the importance of familial values in his essay, “Digging”. The essay delves into the intricacies of a father-son relationship. The essay beings with the author, a 16 year old boy living in Louisiana, who is described as a typical adolescent: carefree, rebellious, and naive. These characteristics soon change when his father, a civil engineer, forces his son to work the summer in a construction zone, digging in the blistering heat of the South, on equal footing with the other African Americans who did the same manual labor. Before the job, the boy did not know the fundamentals of hard work. The relationship of father and son is depicted as quiet, solemn, and respectful. The author describes his upbringing as soft compared to other boys: “my father sired a sensitive boy, easily hurt or frightened” (73). Throughout the essay the boy is depicted as soft hearted, being pampered by the love of his mother and sister. After the job, however, the boy undergoes grueling conditions as he is forced to handle a pickaxe in the sweltering summer, digging amongst the other African American workers. The true lesson comes when the author thanks his father for buying him a helmet, rather than bringing him home and allowing to quit his first day: “It is time to thank by father for wanting me to work and […] buying me a lunch and a pith helmet instead of taking me home to my mother and sister” (80).

Dubus’ essay is filled with symbolism and theme of a father-son relationship. In the essay, the father wants his son to grow into a man. This growth comes in the form of mental, physical, and emotional endurance. Mentally, the son must overcome the hardships of leaving the comfort of his home, and enduring the physical strains in order to make his father proud. Physically, the son must combat the heat and muscular strain symbolized by the pickaxe, in order to grow in to a man (which comes with physically developing muscles). Emotionally, the son must learn to appreciate hard work, while developing a sense of camaraderie with African American men, who were seen as lowly in society, yet shared were equal with him in the trench.

The theme of father-son relationship can be compared to the bond between my father and brother within my own household. Much like the author’s father, my father is a disciplined man who has raised my brother to be kind and soft. My brother is currently 17, but when he was approaching adolescence my father feared that my brother would become a soft spoken introvert. My father wanted to transform my brother into a “man”, and every weekend he would drag my brother to our family business and force him to work. Our family owns two gas stations, and in forcing my brother to work he had to interact with customers on a daily basis, which built his social confidence. In addition to this, my father forced my brother to go to the gym with him and exercise, and even enrolled him in swimming classes. As a result, my brother underwent the same transformation as the son in the essay, he blossomed into adulthood as a man.

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