Grace Paley

A Conversation With My Father

  • 23-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features an extended summary and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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A Conversation With My Father Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 23-page guide for the short story “A Conversation With My Father” by Grace Paley includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like How Stories Are Told and Coming to Terms With Tragedy.

A writer sits next to her elderly, ailing father, who asks her to “write a simple story just once more the kind de Maupassant wrote, or Chekhov” (Paragraph 2). Wanting to please her father, the writer agrees, although she privately feels uncomfortable telling stories with a definite beginning and end: “Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life” (Paragraph 3).

The writer jots down a one-paragraph story about a woman who begins doing drugs to feel closer to her teenaged son only to be abandoned by him when he gets clean. The writer’s father accuses her of “misunderstand on purpose” by leaving out all detail in her story (Paragraph 7). He presses his daughter for more information, and she says that the woman is “handsome” with dark hair in “heavy braids” and that her son was born out of wedlock (Paragraphs 10, 12). This last detail bothers the writer’s father, who disagrees with his daughter’s claim that the detail is irrelevant. He says he thinks that the woman in the story isn’t “so smart,” and the writer agrees that this might be true because characters often thwart an author’s intentions for them (Paragraph 23). Nevertheless, she agrees to try telling the story again.

The second version of the story is longer. In it, the boy has a “busy brilliance” that he uses to launch a periodical that celebrates drug use (Paragraph 29). When his mother also begins doing drugs, their home becomes a hub for other “intellectual addicts” (Paragraph 30). Eventually, however, the boy meets and falls in love with a “stern and proselytizing girl,” who runs a publication on health foods (Paragraph 31). Inspired by her, the boy gets clean and moves in with the girl, but his mother proves “unable to give up what had become without her son and his friends a lonely habit” (Paragraph 34). Her neighbors continue to visit…

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Story Analysis