Class 11 | The Magic of Words

Look At a Teacup

WriterPatricia 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 the 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 the 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 Americarevolted 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. Teacups 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 any more. This means that the only way the daughter can find about her mother is by looking at the teacup.

Important Questions and Answers:

1. How does Hampel see herself and her mother connected by the teacup?
Hampel’s mother bought a teacup in 1939. The Second World War also started in the same year. That teacup was brought to America from Czechoslovakia before the beginning of the war. The level of tea in the cup can be seen from outside. There are thin bands of gold around the edges of the saucer and the cap. There is also a band of gold on the inner, which has been disappeared by constant use. There is no decoration outside the cup. There were flowers, later on, Hampel’s mother handed that cup to Hampel to hand over the tradition and culture of her own generation to Hampel. This is the gift given to Hampel by her mother. Hampel’s cultural values are disappearing as the bands of the inner circle of the saucer and teacup disappearing. This cup reminds Hampel about not only her mother but also the tragic destruction of the Second World War.

2. What do you mean by “many things” fell that year?
Ans: Here, many things fell that year indicates the destruction that happened during the Second World War. The second war started in 1939. The falling off bombs caused much destruction. The countries were captured by their enemies. Many European innocent youths lost their lives in the battlefield. The married women who lost their husband were compelled to fall in the beds of other people. Hampel’s mother had bought a teacup from Czechoslovakia before the Second World War began. But it was also destroyed in the war. In this way art, virginity, culture, tradition, and faith in marriage fell in that year.

3. How does the writer in her essay, “Look at a Teacup” show the relationship among the falling flowers and teacups, falling bodies and beds, and falling off bombs onto women and falling countries?
The teacup about which the writer Hampel talks was brought from Czechoslovakia which was later on destroyed in the Second World War. Hampel’s mother offered that teacup to hand down her culture to her daughter but Hampel didn’t follow her mother’s culture of marrying and bearing children. The flowers inside the cup are scattered and they are falling separately. The band of gold on the inner circle is disappearing due to constant use. This indicates that the old tradition is disappearing. The Second World War began in 1930, many women lost their husband on the battlefield, and enemies compelled these widows to fall in the beds of others. Here, falling bodies and beds indicates the miserable condition of married women of that time. The Second World War made women’s future dark. The young girls were afraid of getting married. In the same way, many countries means falling of freedom, peace and their own identity after the Second World War.

4. What is Hampel’s attitude toward marriage?
The Hampel’s mother got married in 1939 when the Second World War began. It destroyed many things. Many married women who lost their husband and family members were compelled to fall on the beds of strange persons after own husband’s death in the battlefield. The destructive Second World War caused a sense of fear in a young girl’s life. The writer herself saw miserable condition of married women of that period. They lost the faith in marriage. Hampel takes ‘work’ as an important thing but not marriage. For writer and her generation marriage is a tragedy.

5. What does the story “Look at a Teacup” tell us about being women?
Hampel says that in the generation of Hampel’s mother, there was great faith in marriage and family relations before marriage. The traditional women wanted to hand over their tradition and culture to their daughters. They considered that women should marry for sexual relations. For them, family life was greater than work. But modern women don’t follow the traditional values and work is greater than families for modern women. Marriage and family life is tragedy for Hampel’s generation.

6. What does the essay “Look at a Teacup” tell us about marriage? About mother-daughter relationship? About the importance of family?
The ‘teacup’ about which is talking was bought from Czechoslovakia. Later on this country was destroyed in the Second World War. According to the writer, Hampel before the Second World War marriage and family life was considered a great thing. The mother used to hand over culture and their possession to their daughter. Hampel’s mother also did the same thing as other women used to do. Her mother gave her a teacup as a gift. The teacup reminds the writer about her mother’s marriage, a happy life, etc. they didn’t have sexual relations before marriage. This essay also tells us about the importance of happy family life before the Second World War. But during the Second World War, many married women lost their husbands and family members in the battlefield and compelled to fall in the beds of strange ones and these women cursed themselves of being women. After the Second World War, the importance of married life fell down. The Second World War caused fear in young women. Married life means to means to Hampel and Hampel’s generation is a tragedy.

7. Explain “The cup is a detail, a small uncharged finger from the mid-century bonfire”.
The cup, which was offered to the writer Hampel, was brought from Czechoslovakia. It was a beautiful cup with beautiful flowers inside it. In that century, Czechoslovakia was destroyed in the Second World War. The Second World War started in 1939 or in the mid-century. The married women lost their husbands as well as family members in the war. Everything was destroyed but the cup remained unaffected. Here, uncharted finger indicates that whole-body or everything brunt except little finger or little teacup in the war. The country Czechoslovakia lost its culture, tradition, identity, freedom, etc. in the war. Here, the unchanged finger is the symbol art of Czechs.

Questions for Practice :

  1.  What major event took place in 1939 and what were the “many things that fell that year?”
  2. What does “Look at a Teacup” tell us about marriage? About mother-daughter relationship? About the importance of family about women?
  3. In what significant ways are the mother and the daughter different from each other in “Look at a Teacup”?
  4. Explain the daughter’s attitude toward marriage.
  5. How does the writer in the essay, ‘Look at a Teacup’ show the relationship among falling flowers and teacup, falling bodies and beds, falling of the bombs into women and falling countries. Also, write Patricia Hampel’s view on Marriage.

7 thoughts on “Look at a Teacup

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  2. Thanks for such a beautiful answer,
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