Abuse and the Military Style of Command in The Great Santini
By Devyn Thompson
March 29, 2013
Colonel Bull Meecham, who calls himself "The Great Santini", has no legitimate conception of how to be a father. The only way he has ever approached being a father is by trying to be the commander of his family and treating his son, daughter, and wife just as he would the troops he has had under him in the Marines. He cannot accept himself in the role of being a "team-player" in his family, someone who is capable of both give and take, a father who is willing to listen to his family and take their feelings and opinions into account. It is clear that he believes if he were to begin to be a team-player with his family then they will lose all respect for him. He is too insecure about himself to show his loving and respectful side and thus risk losing respect. What happens in The Great Santini because of this tragic fault is that while ineffectively trying to impose the Marine style of command upon his family, coupled with the drinking he uses to try to suppress his feelings of failure, Bull Meecham is ultimately so frustrated and unhappy with this failure that he takes it out on his family in the form of physical and mental abuse.
Pat Conroy uses the analogy of the team sport of basketball to help demonstrate how Bull is incapable of seeing anything from the perspective of a team player. Bull and his son Ben play a game of basketball one on one, and to the great dismay of his father who cannot accept that fact and still feel any value in himself, Ben wins the game. Since Bull is so set on being in charge and always having his way, he handles Ben's victory with irrational responses designed to maintain the image of himself as a respected leader of his family, and he uses words to emotionally crush his family members as if that will make them admit he is still their supreme commander, something which he never in reality been able to do. Rather, his family has...