The story “Sunday in the Park” is about the clash of two families passing the day in the public park. Initially, it seems as if the story is about how a “bad” family is out to ruin an enjoyable day for a “good” family. However, upon closer analysis, various clues and evidence suggest that Kaufman has intended for this story to delve into deeper philosophical questions. It is not simple of matter of deciding who is right or who is wrong in this case. Rather, Kaufman tries to explore the intricacies of human behavior.
By drawing a vivid account of conflict, she lays open the ground for exploration and examination.The story starts off with two children, Larry and Joe, who are playing in the sandbox in the nearly-deserted park. While Larry is “frowning in concentration over the tunnel he was digging, the other boy suddenly stood up and with a quick, deliberate swing of his chubby arm threw a spadeful of sand at Larry (Kaufman, 1996, 273).
” The mother is alarmed at this act, but does not intervene, for “she always said that she wanted Larry to learn to fight his own battles (Kaufman, 1996, 273).” The behavior of the bigger kid, though seemingly a call to conflict, is, however, understandable. There was a chance that he was not trying to hurt Larry but only wanted to get involved in the tunnel the other was building. This is one difference illustrated by Kaufman – children’s behavior does not really pattern the behavior of adults. Throwing sand at another kid may seem like a violent act to adults, but not so much to little children.When Joe threw sand at Larry a second time, he was rebuked by Larry’s mother again. This time, however, Joe’s father intervened, albeit indirectly: “‘You go right ahead, Joe,’ he said loudly.
‘Throw all you want. This here is a public sandbox.’ (Kaufman, 1996, 274).” It seems that Joe and his father have been established the “bad” family. After all, what sane and rational parent would suggest that their son keep bothering another child? But Joe’s father has a point: it was a public place, hence no one should go policing any one else’s children. However, moving beyond his statement, perhaps what the father really is saying is that the parents should just let the children play. Morton, aware of the brewing conflict, tries to help: “‘You’re quite right,” he said pleasantly, “but just because this is a public place….
(Kaufman, 1996, 275).’” His attempt to reconcile the warring factions through pleasantries seems to show the Morton is a rational, level-headed, peace loving dad, the kind of father who is the perfect role model for their children. On the other, based on the description, Joe’s father “was a big man, and he seemed to be taking up the whole bench (Kaufman, 1996, 273).” Because of his physical appearance, Morton and his wife have judged Joe’s father as a bully like his son.
Based on the succeeding incidents, however, it seems that Joe’s dad is more worthy of emulation rather than Morton and his wife. Despite his seemingly unbecoming and unkempt physical appearance, he was straightforward in behaving. Even if his violent and threatening behavior would be frowned upon, he was honest with his feelings. On the other hand, Morton and his wife were not.
When Larry was crying and struggling as he was removed from the sandbox, Morton snapped and told his wife: “If you can’t discipline this child, I will (Kaufman, 1996, 276).” What Morton is showing here is weakness in his character – he was very willing to physically take on his child, but was afraid to take on the person he deemed a bully. His wife, too, acts contrary to the “good” family image they were trying to project. As she chastises Larry for crying, she tells him: “‘Stop crying,’ she said sharply.
‘I’m ashamed of you!’ She felt as if all three of them were tracking mud along the street (Kaufman, 1996, 276).” But her actions indicate that she was not only ashamed of her weak son but also of her husband. Her behavior towards them shows that the wife values violent behavior more than rational, level-headed talk, and she is mad that two men in her life do not succeed. In the end, what Kaufman drives at is the fact that human behavior is more complex than what appears on the surface. The story stays true to the saying that looks can be deceiving.