Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter is written in a narrative that is chronological. The author does not use flashbacks or dwell on memory and the past; rather, she is forward-looking as she gives an account of the high points of her life. In content and in tone, the book is very approachable, with uncomplicated vocabulary and descriptive images that allow the modern reader entry into the author’s world of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The entire story is told from Sone’s perspective as she details her personal experiences and relationships, though the reader may assume that her story resembles that of other nisei girls growing up at the same time that she did.

Although the twelve chapters of the book have titles that name twelve separate and important main events, Nisei Daughter reads far better as a seamless whole than as twelve separate episodes. The book does not resemble a collection of unrelated short stories or discrete essays because the same pivotal characters—Sone and her immediate family—change and age throughout the book, and the reader shares their accumulating successes and misfortunes. Sone gives her readers a personal yet public account, describing details of family, friends, and community life that are set before a backdrop of important political events being played out between Japan and the United States. Thus, what emerges is a winsome description of growing up in trou-bled times and of the very human and specific...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Nisei Daughter Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In her autobiography Nisei Daughter, Monica Sone examines her life as a Nisei, a first-generation Japanese American, in Seattle, Washington. She writes her life story chronologically, beginning with her childhood and ending in young adulthood, when she and her family were placed in internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Sone begins her autobiography with her parents telling her that she is of Japanese ancestry. Her parents informed her that she is a Nisei, a first-generation Japanese American born and reared in the United States of immigrant parents, known as Issei. Because she is of Japanese heritage, Sone, along with her older brother, Henry, had to attend Japanese school after their regular elementary school day. It was at this school that they learned not only Japanese language, literature, and history but also Japanese behavior and social customs. Consequently, Sone and her family traveled to Japan to visit relatives, despite the protests from her brother Kenji. Her years in Japanese school had not prepared Sone for Japan, as her behavior, culturally, was more American than Japanese. While in Japan, Kenji mysteriously became ill and died shortly afterward. Kenji’s death was especially traumatizing to Sone because he never wanted to go to Japan.

When the Itoi family returned to the United States from Japan, they were the targets of much discrimination. Once, Sone and her mother were looking for rental beach...

(The entire section is 584 words.)

Nisei Daughter Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Nisei Daughter presents the voice of a young Japanese American woman who, because of the times and her ethnicity, is forced by the United States government to relocate to an internment camp and create a new life for herself. Sone’s work is significant because of its uniqueness in American literary history. Although Etsu Sugimoto’s A Daughter of the Samurai (1925) precedes Sone’s work, Sugimoto was Japanese writing in English, not Japanese American. As a Japanese American, Sone could not emphasize her “Japaneseness” as forcefully as Sugimoto; such an act would have been viewed negatively in American popular opinion. Therefore, not only is Sone’s work one of the first post-World War II autobiographies by a Japanese American, it is nonaccusatory. She does not blame American racism for the problems faced by her, her family, and other Nisei.

Sone reveals to the reader that early in her life, she won little victories through constantly questioning the roles assigned to her because of her race and gender. For example, her father often attempted to define her and to discourage her from certain paths in life. Although her father had told her that only certain types of women were dancers and his daughter was not going to be one of them, Sone and a friend insisted on dancing in a school program. Her father also would not allow her to attend college immediately after her graduation from high school. He believed that she first needed to...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Nisei Daughter Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Kim, Elaine.“Nisei Daughter.” In Asian-American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. Kim asserts that Nisei Daughter is more than a glorification of the virtues of the “model minority.” The autobiography deftly chronicles the story of the sacrifices made by the Nisei in an American society that frequently saw itself as racially exclusive. Sees Sone’s statement that the “Japanese and American parts of me were now blended into one” as “unconvincing because the blend seems externally imposed, and everything, including the answers to Kazuko’s unspoken questions, is left in limbo.”

Lim, Geok-Lim Shirley. “Japanese American Women’s Life Stories: Maternality in Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter and Joy Kogawa’s Obasan.” Feminist Studies 16 (Summer, 1990): 289-312. Lim gives a feminist reading of Nisei Daughter in an attempt to refute Frank Chin’s assertions that major Asian American writers are women because they cater to stereotypical views of Asian American men. Chin and other male critics tend to ignore the intersection of race and gender in the works of women writers. Lim advances the argument that Sone does not promote racial and gender stereotypes. To a certain extent, her themes are not only a rationalization of dual identity, existing as both Japanese and American, but also a search for a concrete racial identity within a society that denies her. Still, according to Lim, in the end “the psychological, economic, and cultural price the family has had to pay for being Japanese is distorted.”

Sumida, Stephen H. “Protest and Accommodation, Self-Satire and Self-Effacement, and Monica Sone’s Nisei Daughter.” In Multicultural Autobiography: American Lives, edited by James Robert Payne. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992. Sumida compares Sone’s autobiography to those of other Japanese Americans: Daniel K. Inouye’s Journey to Washington (1967) and Daniel Okimoto’s American in Disguise (1971). Suggests that Inouye and Okimoto are accommodationists because, to define themselves as Americans, they must reject their “Japa-neseness.” Sumida implies that a close reading of Sone rejects their stance and that she unobtrusively presents “subversive antiracist themes.”