Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Analysis of Cats in the Cradle

Harry Chapin provides an adequate representation in his 1974 one hit wonder Cat’s in the Cradle of psychological modeling through the diffusion of values which entrench a large degree of capitalism, particularly its prioritization of income gains over social gains.  The song was inspired by a poem written by his wife Sandy and Harry’s relationship with his son.  Furthermore, the poem was inspired by Sandy’s first husband, James Cashmore, who had an awkward relationship with his father, a New York City politician.  The lyrics of the song are told in first person by a father who is too busy to spend time with his son.  Foreshadowing is used to indicate that the son will grow up to model the behavior of the father with phrases such as “I'm gonna be like you dad you know I'm gonna be like you”.  Since the father is preoccupied with his job, by prioritizing work over parenting, the lyrics indicate that the son will have similar characteristics and wants to model the behavior of his father. 
            The deprivation of developmental parenting has little impact on the successive abilities of the child, as most abilities are genetically passed and are incapable of being diffused from parenting action.  Chapin indicates this by expressing joy towards his son after he graduates college and becomes employed.  However, the behavior and successive motivations of the child have been significantly altered due to modeling and diffusion at a young age.  Chapin represents this through the desires of the child to model the behavior of the father in phrases such as “He learned to walk while I was away and he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew he'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad you know I'm gonna be like you".  The absence of the son’s father gave the son sufficient motivation to work hard, which can only be explained as a desirable state held by the father that was diffused to the son.  The father consents to such an evaluation by stating that “My child arrived just the other day, he came to the world in the usual way, but there were planes to catch and bills to pay”.  Chapin represents these values as the possession of inherent obligations to create economic gain to fulfill government mandated taxations.  The possession of these values is subsequently projected to his son at the end of the song when his son says “I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time.  You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu, but it's sure nice talking to you, Dad it's been sure nice talking to you" in response to his father telling him that he would like to see him. 
            The lyrics are representative of the dual nature of parental obligations and life in general.  The parent-child relationship is a compilation of mutually held obligations that oscillate through time.  Parents hold the primary chronological obligation to take care of and provide adequate living conditions for their child, which can be created through a combination of social, economic, and political pressures that generate income and definitive social experience.  The secondary chronological obligation however, is held by the child after the parent has passed beyond the period of reasonable accountability for themselves.  In other words, when parents cannot take care of themselves, their children have the primary obligation to take care of them. Chapin, however, cannot claim the fulfillment of such a reciprocal obligation because he did not support the initial obligation to provide social fulfillment for his child, which arises as a prerequisite to the existence of a reciprocal obligation.  Chapin expresses emotion in many musical variations throughout the song.  His choice of Blues as a basis for the song represents the sadness in the song through the “heavy” stress placed on lonely notes and sequences.
            Harry Chapin entrenches a large degree of capitalism, particularly its prioritization of income gains over social gains.  This is represented in his prioritization of “planes to catch and bills to pay” over spending time with his son. Economic problems and social problems are expressed as equally desirable; however Chapin prefers to support the resolution of economic problems because of their immediate proximity to all others.  Chapin constructs capitalist values as a prioritization not as a replacement to social interaction through his interpretation of social interaction with his son in phrases such as “My son turned ten just the other day.  He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok" and he walked away but his smile never dimmed”.  This illustrates the difference in prioritization and replacement because the father gives a gift, a socially effective emotional expression, but does not play with his son, which means that any value would appear to have more significance over another as the adoption of both means inherently expresses the sufficient motivational pressure felt by both.  These values explain Chapin’s link to his disapproval of parental neglect, since they have a negative effect on the fulfillment and declarations to reciprocal obligations.  Chapin expresses this through the overall sadness of the song in musical expression and Blues.

1 comment:

  1. I think that your points on capitalism are fairly accurate, along with the point of economic status over social responsibilities. This being said, however, the paragraph on those specific desirable traits being passed on genetically is factually incorrect. The nature vs. nurture theory has significant evidence to support that social traits are "passed on" by parental support and guidance, and not by genetic inheritance. Even rendering that paragraph ineffectual, the remaining information you provided is actually, in my opinion, an accurate analysis of " Cats in the Cradle". The last paragraph, mentioning the style of music, being Blues, is more of a diffusion of the social condition at the time as an influence on his lyrical writing than the meaning behind the song. Although I am sure that the significance of the song to him personally also played an important role in the composition of the tune and lyrical mood, I think that the social conditions were much more influential to Chapin's decision to produce the song in the way he did.