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Jaafar Alqallaf
English 113B
Professor Lawson
May 11th, 2016
Project Space: Portfolio Version
1340

What Constitutes a Family?


During the middle of the 20th century, the American family was defined as having a
mother, father, and generally two or more children. This was not always the case, but the nuclear
family, as this type of family was called, was the image that Americans held onto as they thought
about what about constituted a family. Since then, a lot has changed, and the nuclear family,
while not rare, is definitely not the only type of family around. Today, it is common to see
families headed by gay and lesbian couples as well as families that are headed by a single
mother. The change in the family structure has had some impact on society as old ideas about the
family no longer hold true and people are forced to become more tolerant of families that were
once considered abnormal. Despite these changes, these families do not resemble the ones in
Lois Lowrys The Giver, a short novel which shows how the family unit has been altered by the
Committee of Elders which only permits certain women to have children and does not let parents
raise their biological children. Although the family unit has been greatly altered in Lowrys short
novel, it is still the foundation of the community much like the American family remains the
foundation of American society despite its changes.
In the United States, the definition of family has changed over the last few decades so
that it now includes almost anyone living under the same roof. Unlike the nuclear family which
had a mother and father, todays families can have two mothers or two mothers or just a mother

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or father. In some cases, grandparents might be raising children or older children might be
raising younger ones when there are no other legal guardians. According to Agata Kozak, author
of Post-Modern Changes in Martial and Family Life, the authoritarian, patriarchal,
multifunctional, and multigenerational traditional family, with the father as its sole breadwinner,
has turned into a nuclear, democratic, independent, not numerous contemporary family (74).
Kozaks analysis shows that no definition of the family is permanent since this definition is
going to change with time and circumstances. In Lowrys novel, the family does not even look
like the one that Kozak writes about, and is instead completely foreign to any American family
that currently exists. Early in the novel, Jonass father is described as a Nurturer who was
responsible for all the physical and emotional needs of every newchild during its earliest life. It
was a very important job (7). Assigning one group of people the role of nurturer is strange, and
it is even stranger that the nurturer are men since, in American society, this role is mostly
associated with women. Furthermore, by taking the nurturing aspect away from the biological
parents, the family unit is shown to have little importance when raising children, demonstrating
just how far the definition of family has moved.
The changing family has presented problems for the law which has not been able to keep
up with these changes. In the article, Two Steps Behind: The Laws Struggle to Keep Pace with
the Changing Dynamics of the American family, researcher Jason Merrill says how the law his
struggled to accommodate alternative families...because the traditional family form remains the
primary influence in the creation of family law and policy (557). The definition of what
constitutes a family has shifted, but the law has failed to keep up with this shift and is still stuck
in the past. This has led to many legal problems for alternative families, not to mention
discrimination from people who think that alternative families are destroying American society

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by adopting lifestyles that are not beneficial to the children in these families. In the case of
LGBT families, they are often culturally invisible [and] struggle with homophobia and
heterosexism (Joos 2), a real problem for these families. What these people who judge do not
realize is that, even though the family structure has changed, people still form families, and the
family still supports each other and looks out for the interests of its members. This contrasts with
how family is portrayed in The Giver which is shown by how children, once adults with their
own families, cut off contact with their parents. In the United States, many children move away
from their mothers and fathers when they are older as they go to college or find a job in a
different part of the country. However, it is rare for a child to completely cut off contact with his
or her parents, and when one does, other people suspect that there must be some problem. The
American family might not look like it once did, but the family unit is still together which is
more than can be said about family units in The Giver.
Another major change that has occurred in the American family has been the rise in
interracial families as more black and white people marry and have children. Not too long ago, it
was unheard of for black and white people to marry and have children, although today it is much
more common. Writing in the Journal of Marriage and Family, authors Qian and Lichter state
how Americas growing mixed-raced population also is linked with interracial marriage
trendsAmericans today are clearly more tolerant of interracial marriage than in the past
(1068). Although it is not clear whether the tolerance came before or after the interracial
marriage, what matters is that, for the most part, Americans tolerate this change. In The Giver,
there is no tolerance for difference, and anyone who has a different skin color is shunned. As the
Giver explains, there was a time, actuallywhen flesh was many different colors. That was
before we went to Sameness. Today flesh is all the same, and what you saw was the red ones

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(94). This intolerance extends to the family, and shows that, unlike in the United States, there is
no room for change in what constitutes a family. While family diversity is tolerated in the United
States, in the novel the Elders see it as threatening social harmony which leads them to
encourage Sameness and shun anyone who is different.
Finally, many of the changes that have occurred in the American family have resulted
from economic changes. According to Teachman, Tedrow, and Crowder, many men and women
have placed their careers over having families, and poverty has often meant that more women are
having children while unmarried. As American women spend a smaller fraction of their
childbearing years in marriage, the opportunity for nonmarital childbearing increases, the
researchers write, adding that this helps to explain the proportion of children born outside of
marriage (1239). Many of these children are raised by single mothers and without father figures
in their lives. To say that a family run by a single mother is not a family, however, is wrong,
since many of these mothers nurture their children and try to provide as much as they can for
them by working hard and striving to meet their emotional needs. These families contribute to
society in many positive ways, and so, along with other types of families, become the foundation
of society. Without these families, people would be alone like they are in The Giver, and there
would be less social cohesion than there is now since everybody would be looking out for their
own interests and would not consider the needs of others.
Lois Lowrys short novel, The Giver, presents a dystopian society where the family no
longer resembles anything that people can relate to today. In this dystopian society, men become
Nurturers, motherhood is seen as a profession, and biological children are cut off from their
biological parents. Changes in the American family have come over time as well, but these
changes are nothing like what is presented in Lowrys novel. Still, these changes do illustrate that

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the definition of family changes and will probably continue to change even as the family remains
the foundation of American society.

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Works Cited

Kozak, Agata. "Post-modern Changes in Marital and Family Life." Journal of Education Culture
and Society, 2011.1 (2011): 73-79.
Agata Kozaks article relates describes how families are changing and are no longer the nuclear
family that they used to people. People are getting married later, having fewer children, and
divorcing at higher rates. I found this article in the Oviatt Library in a journal that had to do with
family and family relationships. This source will be good for my paper since it answers the first
question in the family relationships theme about how families are defined. I know that this
source is strong since it was peer reviewed. I made sure to only use peer-reviewed sources.
Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Random House, 1993. Print
Merrill, Jason M. "Two Steps Behind: The Law's Struggle to Keep Pace with the Changing
Dynamics of the American Family." Utah Law Review, 2009.2 (2009): 557.
Merrills work is helpful in showing how the laws how not changed as fast as the family as. As a
result, laws do not address many of the problems that the modern family now faces. This journal
was found in the Oviatt Library when I searched for changing family dynamics. This source
has been cited many times by other authors which makes it good for my work. I will use this
source to show how the changing family affects society.
Teachman, Jay D, Lucky M Tedrow, and Kyle D Crowder. "The Changing Demography of
America's Families." Journal of Marriage and Family, 62.4 (2000): 1234-1246.
Techma, Tedow, and Crowders work is helpful in pointing out how much the American family
has changed compared to how it was in the past. These changes have had big social implications.
I found this journal in the Oviatt Library by looking up family society and America. This
source has been cited before and comes from a journal that is recognized. I will use this source to
show how the family structure affects society.
Qian, Zhenchao, and Daniel T Lichter. "Changing Patterns of Interracial Marriage in a
Multiracial Society." Journal of Marriage and Family, 73.5 (2011): 1065-1084.
Zenchao and Lichter talk about interracial marriage and how this has affected families and
society. A lot of racism and other social problems are alleviated since different races are coming
together in marriage. I found this journal in the same in the same database that I found the third
one which has to do with family and how it has changed. I even used the same words to find it.
This source has been cited by other researchers and comes from a journal that is peer reviewed
and does not accept everything. I will use this source to show how the new family is different
from the old one and how it affects society.