– Patricia Hampl
“Look At a Teacup” is an essay written by the feminist writer of America, Patricia Hampl. This essay is written in the narrative style which narrates the history of feminism in America. The two major themes of this essay are the relationship between mother and her daughter (the author) and the connection between the past and the present. Both of these themes are represented by the teacup.
In this essay, there are two different stories. The first story is the essayist’s mother’s story. The mother married in 1939 with an American who had been born in Czechoslovakia. She had bought china cups and plates for her marriage. These cups and plates were made in Czechoslovakia and they are beautiful. In fact, she was very happy in her world of her cups and plates. For her, marriage and the family were the most important things in life. Many years later, she gave these cups to the writer because the writer is her daughter.
The second story in this essay is the story of the Second World War, which also started in 1939. Many things fell that year. Basically, ‘that year’ means the time of war that caused many things to fall, for example, human bodies fell dead in the streets by falling bombs. Countries, cities, industries and a lot of other things fall. Even Czechoslovakia stopped the production of beautiful teacups. In this period, bombs fell on innocent women and children. Thus, women in America revolted against the crime and atrocities done on women. They considered the crime as male oppression and tyranny against women. This is why women’s liberation movement started. The women of this new generation show their anger by rejecting old traditions. They consider work as the most important thing in a person’s life. So, marriage and family lose their importance because feminists take it as a kind of slavery. Tea cups are no more a symbol of marriage and family life for the writer but they are actually the symbols of the war against women. On the other hand, the essayist’s mother used to emphasize the family. Even the mother wanted her daughter to get married. The essayist thinks the past is very important but her mother thinks it is the future that matters.
In this way, ‘the teacup’ in the essay connects the mother, the daughter, the past and the present because it was made in 1939 in Czechoslovakia. We can guess that by giving the teacup, the essayist’s mother intends to give her other things like information about the past, but her mother does not explicitly tell her about the past anymore. This means that the only way the daughter can find about her mother is by looking at the teacup.
1. Description of the ‘Teacup’:
Ans: The teacup is thin. It is the palest water green. The level of tea in the cup can be measured from outside. It is shiny. There are thin bonds/dividends of gold around the edges of the cup. But, the bands of gold inside the cup have been disappeared by regular use. There is no decoration outside. However, inside the cup, there are flowers. It seems as if someone has scattered / sprinkled / speckled / spotted a bunch / cluster / bouquet. They have fallen all around the inside. Some fell so fast that they have reached the bottom and some were still on the way down. They don’t seem to be pasted but caught while falling. Each is different. Each has a different color and each is falling from different heights.
2. What do you mean by “Many things fell that year”?
Ans: ‘That year’ means the year of 1939, which is the year when the Second World War started. The war caused many things to fall, for example, human bodies fell dead in the streets by falling bombs. The writer has related all the fallings through the design of fallings of flowers of the cup. As the flower seems to fall off the cup, many other things also fell down. “Many things fell that year” also means many things lost their values. For example, in the year 1939, countries, cities, industries, etc. fell. In Europe, many people’s bodies fell after they were killed by bombs and bullets. Bombs and bullets fell on innocent women and children so people’s faith in traditional values has been destroyed. Their belief in marriage has also been fallen. Countries were captured by other enemies. Fallings of bombs and bullets declined the destiny of women. So, with the falling of the different countries, the art, culture, architecture was also destroyed. The morality of the people of that time was also dead.
The sentence “Many things fell that year” also refers to people falling into marriage and falling onto their marriage beds together. Many people got married in 1939 because they were worried about the war. Men were worried that they could be killed. So, they got married before they were sent away to fight. In this way, many people married that year and after marriage, they slept together. That is the falling of bodies in bed and also the falling of virginity of the woman who slept together with their husband for the first time. The writer’s mother also married at that time, so she also lost her virginity. Even the arts of making flowers in the cup fell or came to an end when the country itself destroyed. In this way, many things fell that year.
3. Explain, “The cup is a detail, a small uncharred finger from the mid-century bonfire”.
Ans: The mid-century bonfire indicates the Second World War which lasted from 1939 to 1945. Czechoslovakia, where the cup was made, was attacked by Germany in 1939. Many things in Czechoslovakia were destroyed, especially by fire. The cup was brought up by the writer’s mother who was married at the time of war. During the wartime, a lot of property was destroyed but the cup was not destroyed by a chance so that it was a small uncharred finger. The cup was not burnt and thus it remained uncharred. So, the cup is a detail from that bonfire (war) because it gives us information about Czechoslovakia at the time of its destruction although, many things were destroyed. Now, the cup is the only thing in the hand of the writer to study about her mother, about Czechoslovakia and the past in detail. Many pictures on the cup could show the art and the situation of the country. As many associations are related to this cup, we can get much information through this cup. Thus, the cup is a detailed uncharred finger from the mid-century bonfire.
4. How does Hampl see herself and her mother connected by the teacup?
Ans: Hampl’s mother bought the teacup in 1939. Later, she gave it to her daughter. Hampl reads her mother’s history in the cup. It takes her to her mother’s past and to the country where the cup was made. Because of the Second World War, the country and the tradition destroyed. But, this is the cup which reminds Hampl about the country and her mother. By giving the teacup to her daughter, Hampl’s mother also wants to hand over the tradition and culture which her daughter refuses to accept. In this sense, the mother and the daughter both were related to the cup. The mother had brought the teacup in 1939 when she was just married. So, the teacup has sentimental value for mother and so this is important for her. The daughter wants her mother should give her many other things with some information about the past. In short, we can say that the writer and her mother are connected with the teacup by emotion.
5. What does this essay tell us about marriage? About mother-daughter relationship? About the importance of family? About women?
Ans: The mother and daughter disagree in many things. For example, the mother thinks that family is the most important thing but the daughter thinks that work is the most important thing. The mother gives importance to the society and particularly marriage but the daughter does not believe in marriage. She thinks that a boy and a girl may live together for a long time but marriage is not necessary. She herself had decided not to marry. The writer thinks that the past is very important. We can take many lessons of life from the past. But, the mother thinks that the future is more important in life and instead of thinking about the past, one should take more care about the future. The daughter likes talking very much because she thinks that it’s by talking that we can share our experiences. But, the mother doesn’t like to talk very much. Anyway, in spite of the differences, the relationship between them is very friendly. They frankly talk and discuss many things. The mother never tries to force her daughter to accept her views.
Have a question? Ask us in our discussion forum.