Seventeen Syllables by Hisaye Yamamoto

Topics: Japanese people, Marriage, Japan Pages: 5 (1544 words) Published: April 25, 2013
Seventeen Syllables by Hisaye Yamamoto

Writing about integration into a completely different society and, even a completely different world, is, in my opinion, very difficult. To be able to really well describe all the feelings and conflicts which, unfortunately, are present while speaking about such an issue, one needs some own authentic experience, and since the author of this short story is of Japanese origin, there is a very good chance of reading a great piece of work.

“Seventeen Syllables” is really worth reading because of a few reasons. First of all, one can really get into the world of immigrants. Not only to get to know their way of living but one can also learn about other cultures (in this case Japanese), getting to know their habits, social structure and traditions.

Conditions of living for the Japanese in the USA
Since speaking about Japanese people in the USA, there are also some historical facts to be mentioned in order to understand all the story layers later. [1]According to Asian immigrants were welcomed in the USA from the end of 19th century. However, in 1924 there was the Asian Exclusion Act, due to which the immigration had to stop. There were a lot of single Japanese men in the USA who were working hard to earn enough money before they got married. Since these men wanted to keep the tradition of a Japanese marriage, most of the them did not know their brides personally. This is why many marriages could not be regarded as happy ones and in many cases, unfortunately, the children were often the main “victims” of such an unhappy marriage. Another law which disadvantaged the Japanese immigrants was The Alien Land Act of 1913. According to this act the Japanese were not allowed to buy a land and keep it for more than three years. This law was quite harsh also because of the fact that there was a big number of Japanese families being dependent of farming. Therefore, most of the people were forced to move after this period of time, which was, of course, very difficult and stressing.

Character of the story
“Seventeen Syllables” is a short story depicting a Japanese family owning a small tomato farm in some rural area of the USA. The whole family consists of a mother father and their daughter. Since they are the first-generation immigrants, there is still very strong Japanese cultural influence. This influence is, of course, in a big contrast with the American way of life and thinking. Even though the story is just about six pages long, Yamamoto managed to depict different kinds of conflict this family is struggling with. In my essay I would like to speak, especially, about the lack of communication and language barrier, collision of two completely different cultures, and position of the women in traditional Japanese marriage.

Communication problems
Problems of communication could be found even on the very first page of the story. Communication gap between the mother and her daughter can be realized when the mother asks her daughter for her opinion about a haiku she has just written. Even though the daughter is not really sure what was the haiku about, she agrees that her haiku is good. In the very beginning the reader just learns that the mother spoke Japanese and a little bit English, while her own daughter spoke English fluently but had troubles with her mother tongue. As Song (2010) also suggests, the daughter is much more identified the American Culture than the Japanese one, as for example, in the scene when she imitates some of the Hollywood stars at school. And there is the question a reader must ask him/herself at the very beginning of this story: Is such a family relationship really functioning? Of course, the answer is logically “no”.

Emancipation vs. traditional role of the Japanese women
Another conflict of the story is, doubtlessly, the role of a woman in a Japanese marriage. As Song (2010) suggests, the most thrilling and interesting part...
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