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Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. The View of the Family. Kelley Sirko English 560 Spring 2008. Designated Roles. Luke “Luke had been offered the role of strength and simplicity. He had suffered the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child.” (53)

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Pat conroy s the prince of tides

Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides

The View of the Family

Kelley Sirko

English 560

Spring 2008

Designated roles
Designated Roles


  • “Luke had been offered the role of strength and simplicity. He had suffered the terrible burden of being the least intellectual child.” (53)

  • “Because he was not gifted in school and because he was the oldest, he was the recipient of my father’s sudden furies, the hurt shepherd who drove the flock to safety before he turned to face the storm of my father’s wrath alone.” (53)

Designated roles1
Designated Roles


  • From earliest childhood, Savannah had been chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy.” (52)

  • “Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle.” (52)

Designated roles2
Designated Roles


  • “I came as a surprise, an afterthought.” (77)

  • “My designation in the family was normality. I was the balanced child drafted into the ranks for leadership, for coolness under fire, stability.” (53)

  • Lowenstein: “You became Savannah’s memory, her window to the past.” (464)

Extremes and instability
Extremes and Instability

  • “It was the beauty and fear of kinship, the ineffable ties of family, that sounded a blazing terror and an awestruck love inside of me…The story of my family was a story of salt water, of boats and shrimp, of tears and storm.” (675)

Extremes and instability1
Extremes and Instability

Henry and Lila

  • “I could always feel the fury of some higher love shimmering between them, even in there worst and most dangerous moments…Their signals were always mixed and confused and I could never sound the depths of their always volatile relationship. I could not figure out what my mother saw in my father or why she remained as both ruler and prisoner in his house. It was clear that my father adored my mother…My mother often seemed to despise everything my father stood for, but there were moments of strange complicity when I would see a look pass between them so charged with passion and awareness of the other that I would blush for having accidentally shared it.” (313)

Extremes and instability2
Extremes and Instability

Henry and Lila

  • “Whenever my father hit us, my mother would say, ‘He only did it because he loves you.’ Whenever my mother struck us with her hairbrush, her broom, her hands, she did it in the name of love.” (154)

  • “I still believe that they both loved us deeply, but as with many parents, their love proved to be the most lethal thing about them.” (4)

Extremes and instability3
Extremes and Instability


  • Lila is a world of contradictions – manipulative yet vulnerable, protective yet scornful of her children, guilty yet claims to have a clear conscience.

  • “In a thousand days of my childhood, she offered a thousand different mothers for my inspection. As a child, I never got a clear sighting of her; as a male, I never received a clear signal from her. I became a lifelong geographer of my mother’s character but I could never resolve the irregularities along the antipodes or in the torrid zones.” (254)

Extremes and instability4
Extremes and Instability


  • “ Discussing her variety of her gifts, her children later devised a list of occupations in which our mother would have excelled. She could have prospered, we decided, as a princess to an obscure Himalayan country, an assassin of minor cabinet officials, a fire-eater, the wife of the chairman of AT&T, or a belly dancer who brought the heads of saints to kings.” (255)

  • “As her children, she looked upon us inconsistently as both her co-conspirators and her enemies.” (255-56)

Extremes and instability5
Extremes and Instability


  • Henry fluctuates between violent and defenseless, loving yet cold.

  • “I think my father loved us, but there has never been a more awkward or deviant love. He considered a slap to the face a valentine delivered. As a child he felt neglected and abandoned and neither of his parents had ever laid a hand on him…At night, surrounded by his family, my father looked trapped…” (184-85)

  • “When I thought of his soul, tried to visualize what was real and essential to my father, I only saw an endless acreage of ice.” (180)

Pat conroy e2 80 99s the prince of tides
Secrets and Denial“We are a family of well-kept secrets and they all nearly end up killing us.” – Tom (99)

Family Loyalty

  • Secrets are kept within the Wingo family for the sake of Lila’s demand for “family loyalty.”

  • “She told us that the greatest virtue in the world was family loyalty and only the finest people, the very best people, possessed it.” (587)

  • “My mother forbade us to tell anyone outside the family that my father hit any of us. She put the highest premium on what she called ‘family loyalty’ and would tolerate no behavior that struck her as betrayal or sedition.” (159)

Secrets and denial
Secrets and Denial

Family Loyalty

  • “My mother taught us that it was the highest form of loyalty to cover our wounds and smile at the blood we saw in our mirrors. She taught me to hate the words family loyalty more than any two words in the language.” (160)

  • “I learned from my mother that loyalty was the pretty face one wore when you based your whole life on a series of egregious lies.” (159)

Secrets and denial1
Secrets and Denial


  • Lila’s need to keep secrets fuels her denial that certain events never even occurred.

  • After the rape: “This didn’t happen. Do you understand? Do you all understand? This did not happen.” (496)

  • Lila: “I wasn’t raped…You didn’t see what went on in that room…He didn’t rape me. You have no proof.” (528)

  • Lila: “When I say goodbye to something in my past, then I just shut the door and never think of it again.” (471)

Secrets and denial2
Secrets and Denial


  • Henry, in an effort to take blame off of himself, denies his violent behavior toward his wife and children.

  • Henry: “I never laid a hand on your mother and I never once touched my children.” (582)

  • Henry: “I treated her like a queen…That was my problem. I was too goddamn nice to her.” (581)

Solidity of the sibling relationships
Solidity of the Sibling Relationships

Luke, Savannah, and Tom

  • “Whenever we were hurting or damaged or sad, whenever our parents had punished or beaten us, the three of us would go to the end of the floating dock, dive into the sun-sweet water, then swim out ten yards into the channel and form a circle together by holding hands. We floated together, our hands clasped in a perfect unbreakable circle…I could feel the dazzling connection between us, a triangle of wordless, uplifted love as we rose, our pulses touching, toward the light and terror of our lives. Diving down, we knew the safety and silence of that motherless, fatherless world; only when our lungs betrayed us did we rise up toward the wreckage.” (453-54)

Things to mull over
Things to Mull Over

  • Tom has a habit of contradicting himself in his musings and his account of his family history – a habit that Lila herself seems to share as well. How much can we actually trust his narrative?

  • Does Tom actually forgive Lila, as he claims several times in the book, or is it only when he finally betrays “family loyalty” and brings the family secrets out into the open that he can forgive her?

  • What is the importance, if any, of Tom’s sexualized descriptions of Lila, and sometimes Savannah, in the novel? What effects do they have on the reader?