Divorce is a painful illness in our modern society that Family break-up has become a common experience in childhood today. Researchers estimate that 45% of all first marriages end in divorce.
However, the high divorce rate is not the challenge that society faces. The true challenge lies in confronting the growing social acceptance of this phenomenon that impedes the development of a stable society. Indeed, divorce has become more acceptable now than in the past. These high rates of divorce in comparison to past decades could be attributed to the changes in values in society at large. Tolerance of divorce has produced profound changes in our attitudes towards the concepts of marriage and family.
Hence, marriage, as an institution, has become increasingly defined as a short-term relationship, and laws no longer assume that marriage is forever. The commitment to stay in a marriage; doing whatever it takes to make it work, has been replaced by new notions that promote the culture of divorce.
Marriage is no longer seen in the public awareness programmes and the media as a combination of two people working together to achieve their goal—which is a successful marriage. People forgot that marriage is an institution that only grows when the couple involved work hard on their relationship.
Even the relationships experts today do not say that successful marriage requires self-sacrifice and emotional investment on the part of both spouses. Instead, they emphasise the Inevitability of divorce if the relationship is bringing more sadness than joy, overlooking the devastating impact of it on the psyche of the sons and daughters.
Along the same line, the social media work to foster controversial concepts that cannot be disseminated in society without serious discussions like the concept of “no-fault divorce”, in which the dissolution of a marriage does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either party, and the concept of “single parent”, which gives both men and women a loophole to reduce their sense of responsibility and commitment to the marriage.
Dramatic works, in their turn, compete in representing a false image of children’s lives after divorce, asserting that marriage isn’t what matters so much to a child’s wellbeing.
Florian Zeller’s The Son, translated by Christopher Hampton, currently on Duke of York’s Theatre, London, is one of the few works that swim upstream, asserting that family break-ups due to parents’ divorce are very challenging for young people. It represents the dramatic impact of the divorce on young people’s safe and healthy development, which is an almost untouched topic in drama nowadays.
Most importantly, the play argues that the divorce brings radical changes to parent-child relationships that run counter to our current understanding, affirming that parenting cut loose from its moorings in the marital contract is often less stable, more volatile, and less protective of children.
The play depicts the mental health crisis of a teenager amid his parents’ divorce and his father’s remarriage. The psychological drama focuses on a middle-aged and middle-class divorced couple, Pierre and Anne who are incapable of helping their 17-year-old son Nicolas in his serious psychotic break.
At first, the depressed son reacts to the traumatic change in his family life by ditching school, scribbling meaningless doodles on the walls, making a mess everywhere he goes and displaying symptoms of mild depression. The solution for the boy to live with his father and his new family does not seem to help him much, and his return to his mother’s home only makes matters worse.
Eventually, when he fails to cope with the breakup of his family, the helpless lad engages in extreme acts of self-mutilation and even suicide, and he ends up in a psychiatric hospital with the consent of his irresponsible parents, who regard their son as a heavy burden just because they are no longer married.
Obviously, divorce can save people from a bad marriage, but it can’t save children from a bleak future. The Son, directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst, is not a new story about a dysfunctional family, but it is certainly a significant work in this time, in which we stopped talking about the nuclear family as a primary environment for social integration and personal development.
Marwa El- Shinawy holds a PhD in American theatre, and is a member of the Higher Committee for the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre