Study Guide

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand Family

By Helen Simonson

Family

"Is it worth the struggle, one must ask, if the result is the loss of family and the breaking of tradition?" (1.102)

Mrs. Ali is very conflicted because she has to choose between family and what she believes in. On the other hand, she doesn't share her family's beliefs of putting tradition first, especially when tradition comes at the expense of her independence.

"You are lucky," said Mrs. Ali. "You Anglo-Saxons have largely broken away from such dependence on family. Each generation feels perfectly free to act alone and you are not afraid." (1.104)

Mrs. Ali sees this as a benefit, but this is what bothers the Major most. He wants a relationship with his son. He doesn't like that Roger feels free to act alone.

"You must enjoy your family and I must be getting back." (2.40)

By this point, the Major thinks a relationship with his son is beyond hope. The rest of his family is dead, so the Major would pretty much just rather spend time with Mrs. Ali, his new family.

"He was my golden boy, too, when he was little. I'm afraid that Ahmed and I spoiled him terribly." She hugged her book a little tighter to her chest and sighed. "We were not blessed with children of our own, and Abdul Wahid was the very image of my husband when he was small." (5.52)

Mrs. Ali feels closer to Abdul Wahid than most aunts feel to their nephews, since she practically raised him. In fact, she's closer to her nephew than the Major is to his own flesh and blood.

It had been obvious soon after Bertie's marriage that Marjorie had no intention of playing the dutiful daughter-in-law and had sought to separate the two of them from the rest of the family. (7.2)

The Major might be the only person in his family to actually care about his family. His own son has distanced himself, and so has his dead brother's family. That makes the Major very very lonely.

"Oh, Jemima, don't be so rude to your uncle Ernest, dear," said Marjorie. "He is one of our only friends now." (7.34)

Marjorie says this, but she makes no effort to actually treat her brother-in-law as a friend or as family. Her daughter, Jemima, is just as disrespectful.

"Oh, certainly," said Grace. "I wish I had children to come and live near me." Her voice held a hint of a pain unconnected with digestive problems. (10.141)

Even though the Major and Mrs. Ali are subject to torment by their children (or in Mrs. Ali's case, the nephew who is basically her son), Grace wishes she had some kids. For her, no torment is torment enough.

"I had to come and see for myself that you don't love me. […] I never believed them when they said you left of your own accord, but I see now that you are the product of your family, Abdul Wahid." (11.167)

Adhering to family traditions isn't always a good thing, especially when your family is as crazy as Abdul Wahid's side of the family is. Amina hopes Abdul Wahid is different… but he isn't.

"Extra relatives are useful, I suppose—additional bridge player at family parties, or another kidney donor." (11.173)

The Major's assessment here is a little cold, but it's pretty funny. At this point in his life, that's all his family is, really… except that they're not even going to play cards with him, and they're so selfish that they probably wouldn't donate an organ, either.

Roger was by no means a bulky man and the way he filled the uniform so tightly gave the Major the unpleasant sensation that his own father must have been more slight and insubstantial than he remembered. (17.19)

This is a brief statement, but it reveals so much of how the Major thought of his own father… and how that opinion is changing. The Major sees his father as a larger-than-life character, but after the ceremony, he sees him as only human, and a flawed human, at that, who directly participated in British imperialism.