Family pressures – influences that are often overlooked, but arguably bear a significant, if not the most, amount of meaning in one’s life. It has been said time and time again that parents always want the best for their children; and though their actions may sometimes displease them, they are rooted in wisdom and careful thought in respect to their child’s wellbeing. However, what happens when one’s family most also be concerned about another person or place’s welfare? Will these two moral obligations ever clash? And God forbid, but what happens if amidst all this conflict, one’s parental figures—whom are supposed to be omniscient and sensible—make a mistake? In this case, do their children still have the duty to uphold their parents’ wishes, despite what hardship it may cause them?
In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the author illustrates how a family’s contending loyalties negatively impact the young, for their wellbeing is often compromised in order to maintain a family’s reputation, or even the good of a state. Not only does this result in a child’s isolation and loneliness due to neglect, but a lack of understanding within a family also causes feelings of resentment, thus deepening the problem. This is shown in the text when Claudius speaks to Hamlet and says, “And we beseech you bend you to remain / Here in the cheer and comfort of our eye, / Our chiefest courtier, cousin, and our son” (I.II.115-117), meaning that he forbids him from leaving to Wittenberg so Hamlet can continue to fulfill his role as a court member, nephew, and son, thus restoring a court’s norm, and positively impacting the family’s reputation, as their son will be shown to support their endeavors. Despite acknowledging that Hamlet is suffering severe emotional distress due to the events that have taken place, it is shown that Claudius and Gertrude ignore his wishes, and rather focus on the maintaining a reputable front in order to maintain Denmark’s peace. In other words, they prioritized the country over Hamlet’s needs. Because Hamlet is forced to stay, he continues to isolate himself and resent those around him, resulting in his inability to cope in isolation. In his soliloquy immediately after Claudius leaves, Hamlet states: “O God, God! / How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable / Seem to me all the uses of this world!” (I.II.132-134), meaning that he does not see a purpose in living any longer. It is shown that after facing parental neglect and pressure, Hamlet feels trapped in his circumstances, which inevitably leads to immense conflict within the kingdom, resulting in the death of Hamlet and his family. Through this passage, Shakespeare argues that family pressures that do not wholly concern the wellbeing of another member ultimately lead to destruction, for they are an overbearing force in which individuals feel helpless, as shown by Hamlet’s perception of the world.
It is no surprise that I have not encountered neglect and family pressures to the extent that Hamlet has; however, this concept still exists in my life. For instance, the first time I went out to get coffee with one of my boy friends, my mother was in disbelief. Although she trusts me to go out, she couldn’t fathom that I had went out in public with just a boy. “What if someone had seen you?” she proceeded to ask me, “what would they think of our family then?” Cultural clashes between Punjabi and Western norms inevitably lead to conflict. In this specific instance, my mother was worried about my reputation amongst people within our culture, as well as her own image—a parallel to the King and Queen’s concern for their reputation over Hamlet’s desires, as well as Polonius’ concern for his reputation above Ophelia’s feelings. Ultimately, I had to oblige and conform to my parents’ wishes, and avoid hanging out with my boy friends alone, showcasing the impact of family pressures on one’s course of action. Although she was enforcing this rule in my best interest, her concern for her reputation also played a role, depicting how contending loyalties can lead to a lack of understanding within families. Although I do not agree with this conservative outlook, no amount of arguing has ever changed her stance; thus, I must accept her ultimatums and live under the pressure of her rules. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that by not allowing me to do pursue friendships, she is inadvertently hindering my happiness, although that should be her main and only priority for me. Family pressures in my personal life have definitely decreased as I have become more independent, however, I will never truly be free of the overbearing chains put in place to protect me, but make me feel entrapped.
Family pressures are hardly easy to escape or deny, despite what one believes is best for them. By honoring one’s family life, an individual must be prepared to have aspects of their freedom stripped from them, regardless of the repercussions one will face. The idea of having a family is to have people on your side who genuinely care for your wellbeing. However, it is important to note that parents and other elderly figures are also human, and fall victim to pressures themselves, such as maintaining a respectable reputation, and may compromise their descendants’ desires or needs in order to do so. These conflicting pressures will often result in one neglecting his or her child’s happiness and wellbeing, as depicted by Hamlet’s parents, as well as mine. This pressure may be overbearing, but is only overcome when one rejects their family values entirely and acts above their elders, resulting in broken family ties. However, when one does not have the power or will to do so, he or she will have to embrace his or her circumstances, and suffer the consequences of their conformity.