Literary Critique - Sunday in the Park

Bel Kaufman
Photo Credit: Unknown

Apathy and Passive Nonchalance

Written in 1983, Bel Kaufman’s “Sunday in the Park” depicts a married couple and their son Larry enjoying an afternoon at a playground. When a bully throws handfuls of sand at their child, an unusual incident occurs. No one does anything to stop it. The bully’s father will not reprimand his son and encourages a fight. The victim’s father choses to leave with Larry rather than confront an intimidating man who will beat him up.

Sounds like a simple case of fight or flight. Morton flees. This doesn’t go over well with his wife. Embarrassed about Morton’s inability to resolve the problem, she defines this seemingly insignificant event as an indicator of a troubled relationship. Larry cries as they leave the park, and the disgusted parents debate how to handle, or perhaps even discipline, their child’s outrage and unrelenting display of emotion.

Kaufman writes, “Her first feeling was one of relief that a fight had been avoided, that no one was hurt. Yet beneath it there was a layer of something else, something heavy and inescapable. She sensed it was more than just an unpleasant incident, more than defeat of reason by force.”

This powerful story portrays a woman dissatisfied with her husband’s personality. This protagonist turns a disturbing event into a statement of all that is wrong in her marriage, while remaining strangely composed.