Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun Essay - Critical Essays

Rhoda Blumberg


Blumberg crafts this story of Japan’s opening and Perry’s bravado as a narrative, using setting, character development, foreshadowing and suspense, and an episodic structure as a novelist might. The book begins, for example, in a moment of panic as four black ships enter the harbor and barbarians seem poised to invade Japan, setting temple bells ringing and messengers racing inland and families locking their doors. Such a gripping opening is the stuff of a novel. This technique gives Blumberg several advantages, the most important of which is the avoidance of the encyclopedic tone and the submergence of the reader into the perspectives and mindsets of opposing personages and cultures. This method also allows the author to hold information in abeyance, to generate suspense and to hold interest. Her narrative voice suggests the enormous importance of the opening of Japan, but it also maintains an impartial stance: Both sides maneuver and bluff, both sides deceive, both sides threaten force, and both sides experience gains and losses.

Yet, Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun is not a novel, and Blumberg wishes to show more than an isolated episode; she wants to depict an entire culture and its stern reluctance to change. She does this by interspersing the episodic narrative with historical explanations for why personages responded as they did. For example, she interrupts the narrative between the July and February visits by Perry to...

(The entire section is 415 words.)