The Family Analysis and an Ecomap of the Movie October Sky

Although an entire family is not an equivalent sum of its members, the birth of a child forms an entire family system with multiple role demands. Nevertheless, an intimate relationship between two adults can be considered as a whole family. Children in a complete family setup are forced to cope with the dynamics of a marital relationship and family.

The birth of more siblings may alter the situation even more deeply. The cohesiveness of family members is pertinent for the optimum growth of children and development of an adult. This cohesiveness plays a great role later in life when there are stressful events. This case study is a family analysis and an ecomap of the movie October Sky.

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Family life can be analyzed in many varied dimensions to establish its status. One of the dimensions can be global where the family is placed along a scale of competence. The analysis determines whether the family functioning is optimal, adequate or dysfunctional. The structure of a hypothetical family is characterized by responsibilities and relationship among the members.

Roles associated with discipline, provision of needs, and solving problems are for the head, in most cases the father. Encouragement and emotional support are roles usually handled by mothers. Every person in a family life brings different cognitive, social and physical features. Family assessment of the movie October sky is intended to evaluate the effect of age, marital status, and education, religious believes, culture, and socio-economic factors of the families featured in the movie (Bradley & Parker, 2003).

The director of October Sky, Joe Johnston produces a masterpiece that leaves elation and wonder to everybody interested in science. Packaged with a sense of humor and profound fantasy, Joe keeps the action alive with young men full of charisma. The director of this movie allows the audience to share in the accomplishment of a young man, Homer, and his friends. He allows the audience to see the misunderstanding that is evident between an earnest son and a skeptical father (Clapsaddle, 2008).

To understand the family, we need to evaluate its dynamics in terms of family boundaries. In every family, there exist processes that move the subsystems and coalitions for that specific family. Family boundaries can either be clear that are ideal, firm but flexible to produce an adaptable family. Families can also be rigid and this implies disengagement among different subsystems or members of the family.

Other families can be diffuse implying enmeshment where every member is concerned with each other. This is a confused atmosphere where all but none is taking charge making it hard for a social worker to implement change. The family featured in October Sky fall under rigid in that its subsystems are disengaged implying lack of flexibility.

Whether a family is dysfunctional of functional depends on the members’ abilities to adapt to different situations. Characteristics of family boundaries fall through a scale ranging from enmeshment from one side, through diffuse to rigidity. Families’ subsystems are in most cases characterized by a chain of command with children subsystems at the bottom and parental subsystems at the top.

An executive subsystem occurs when the decision making subsystem (parental) does not exist. Sibling subsystems and disengagement are characterized by a poor relationship shared by siblings. In October Sky, Homer and his brother share a poor relationship caused by different interests that they pursue.

Triangulation is a situation where an offspring is caught between conflicts existing between the parents. This happens in dysfunctional families since the child sometimes becomes the reason why the parents are in conflict, or the child feels responsible for what is happening. A family with close emotional, physical and psychological boundaries among the members is in enmeshment.

When these boundaries are excessively distant, the family is in disengagement. The Homer’s in October Sky clearly demonstrates a family in disengagement. The father is seen to distant himself from his defiant son Homer. However, the mother and his sons are in enmeshment as the mother shares the emotional predicaments affecting her children.

Another family relationship is called coalition that implies family members against or in disagreements with others. In October Sky, Homer’s brother and his father form a coalition against him. This is because both did not like his interests in making rockets. Coalitions can either be stable or unstable depending on the ground on which they are formed in a family. We also witness a relationship formed by the children and their mother against their father.

Enmeshment has been described by psychologists as “a boundary violating” relationship that makes family members to overreact in issues concerning other member’s emotions. Another scenario referred to as equifinality entails brings together people from different origins. This relationship is shared at the end of the movie by Homer and his father.

The arrogant dogmatic father finally realized that his defiant son was not giving up and therefore embraced his interests. Centrifugal tendency moves the family members away from the family, while centripetal force brings them closer or into the family. In October Sky, Homer exhibits a centrifugal tendency, he is incessantly moved away from the family due to his father’s attitude towards his dreams.

In October Sky, Homer a young boy from a small town in West Virginia is inspired to design rockets. This inspiration comes after he spots the first artificial satellite, and along with his friends they decide to build rockets. The tasks proved to be very challenging making him do a lot of trials.

The first instance of family relationship is depicted by his doubtful father, who along with the entire town thought that he was wasting his time. Homer disagrees with his father on several occasions as the movie unfolds. His father wanted him to become an ordinary miner, just like other people. However, Homer’s personal attribute of courage and diligence helps him to oppose his father (Clapsaddle, 2008).

Later, town residents became interested in the rockets, making Homer and his friends to be famous. When one of the initial rockets was launched into the sky, it fell on a mining company roof. Homer’s father warned the boys not to throw any more rockets; they therefore had to walk about eight miles to make more attempts safely. Homer and his friends walked there every day to fire a different rocket and they witnessed an improvement every time they fired a new rocket (Clapsaddle, 2008).

Homer’s father was very disappointed with his son’s dreams, especially after quitting football. However, a few people in town were very supportive and helped them weld the nozzles. His science teacher Miss Reilly brought Homer a book on building rockets as a birthday gift. At one time, the boys had to quit after they got arrested on allegations that they had ignited a forest fire with the rockets (Johnston, 1999).

The same night, Homer’s father becomes sick after hurting himself at work. Homer is forced to leave school and work for the mines to provide for his family and help with the hospital bills. His father is touched by this decision and changes his opinion about his son; he sees him as responsible.

Homer is very unhappy with the mines job since he believes that his dreams were shattered (Johnston, 1999). Later, he visits his sick teacher who reminds him that he did not belong to the mines, she tells him to focus on his dreams once again. Homer heads back home and read his rocket book critically (Clapsaddle, 2008).

Aided by the book, Homer finds out through calculation that they did not start the fire as the police had alleged. He quits his mine job, goes back to school and wins the county science fair award. He later goes back to building rockets, a decision that disappoints his father once again. A time comes when homer’s father remains the only one in town opposed to his son’s ambitions. However, this changes when he is the only one who helps him out when his supplies are stolen before the science fair contest (Clapsaddle, 2008).

Even though Homer wins the science fair and is awarded a gold medal and a college scholarship, his father does not show his appreciation. He goes to thank his father and to inform him of their intention to shoot their last rocket but his father says he is busy.

Nevertheless, Homer tells his father of their similarity and tells him that he was his hero. His father shows up in the last minute and Homer allows him to turn the button to shoot the last rocket; a rocket that goes for a very long distance. His father finally appreciates his son’s achievement after watching the rocket go higher and higher (Johnston, 1999).

Director of this movie Joe Johnston captures comprehensively one of the problems that faced US after the war. There was a difficult transition from an economy that was based on resources to an economy that was forced to become technology based. The conflict between Homer and his father is a representation of this transformation. It shows clearly that US was not yet ready to rely and to trust in technology.

Importance of the family bond and understanding is evident when Homer’s father suddenly becomes sick. The defiant son had to abandon his dreams to focus on the mine job in order to pay hospital bills for his father. Family relationship is also evident when Homer’s father helped him after his things were stolen a night before the science fair. The movie ends with a father and son reconciliation despite their personal reasoning (Johnston, 1999).

October Sky exposes the humble background of the main character Homer who struggles to gain acceptance by his family. Homer works very hard to gain acceptance and approval from his father, a common teenage dilemma. He becomes a hero among his peers, in school and around the entire town.

His accomplishments are appreciated by everybody, apart from his hardened father who had conflicting goals prepared for him. Homer’s father never showed his feelings and did not believe in his son having his opinions. He has an open dogmatic attitude that makes his relationship with his son to become dysfunctional (Clapsaddle, 2008).

As Homer’s father, Homer, sr. should have been the one to mould his son to achieve his dreams. Instead, he emphasizes that his son should become a mine worker like himself. He focuses much of his energy on his job, and does not spend a lot of time with his family. This is a sign of a dysfunctional family since as the head of the family; he ought to have been there for his sons.

He is not open to any discussions or negotiations as he believes that his decisions are final. He has a problem showing his feelings, he is not open but at the same time, he judges his son’s actions. Homer’s father is depicted as the one who destroys the cohesiveness of his family setup (Johnston, 1999).

Homer’s mother plays her roles effectively to keep her family together. She gives all her family members their much needed emotional support. She is very supportive of her sons, and even attempts to reconcile her husband with her son. The little cohesiveness that has been achieved by the Homers is her effort to build a friendly atmosphere among the members of her family.

She is determined so that both her sons will get better opportunities other than the mines. She supports her son Homer and believes in what he is trying to achieve. She gives Homer her kitchen equipments and water heater to aid him with his experiments (Clapsaddle, 2008).

Homer is sometimes defiant and selfish in that he prefers to focus on his dreams of building the rockets. Although in the end he becomes triumphant, he comes out as selfish. His attitude brings an unhealthy relationship with his father, who does not support his dreams. In addition, although his hard work and determination is commendable, he does not share a healthy family relationship with his brother, whom his father preferred (Johnston, 1999).

Homer is always in conflict with his brother, who is much liked by their father. This is probably because their father puts no effort to bring them closer. Their role model is always away from home and therefore they end up not having a healthy relationship with each other. Jim blames his brother for the conflict existing between their parents.

Lack of cooperation among the Homers makes their family to look dysfunctional. The tension between the parents is not the best environment that any child would prefer to grow in. It is this tension that finally brings the sibling-sibling relationship that Jim has with his brother (Clapsaddle, 2008).


The ecomap above represents the Homers’ family system as observed from the movie October Sky. From the ecomap, the black line represents a strong positive relationship, the green line represents a neutral relationship, and the red line represents a conflicting relationship. The family system is mapped in its world, and can therefore be used to gather information about the family. It also portrays the ecological situation in which the homers exist.

It provides a picture of significant conflicts existing between the family and the world. It shows the flow of resources and deprivations facing the Homers. For a social worker, the diagram can be used to highlight the point and nature of conflicts. The social worker can then know how to intervene, the conflicts to be mediated and the resources to be mobilized (Bradley & Parker, 2003).


Bradley, G., & Parker, J. (2003, June). Transforming Social Work Practice:Social Work Practice: Assessment, Planning, Intervention. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from Learning Matters:

Clapsaddle, D. (2008). Guide to Rocket Boy/ October Sky By Homer Hickam, Jr. New york:

Johnston, J. (Director). (1999). October Sky [Motion Picture].