Picture Bride Themes

Themes

Culture Clash
Uchida’s Picture Bride is a story of culture clash as experienced by the protagonist, Hana, in her coming-of-age adventures as she adjusts to living in the United States. In California, Hana finds that everything about her seems to be out of place. Her clothes are all wrong; her language is not understood; even the smell of her favorite foods annoys others. Her intelligence is belittled because she speaks a foreign language and cannot fully express herself, and her fine Japanese graces are mocked because they are different from American manners. Everything that she has learned, everything that she has cherished about her Japanese culture comes under suspicion in the United States.

Hana knows that in order to get along better with the majority of the people around her she must adapt to her new culture. However, she is torn between wanting to fit in and wanting to hold onto her Japanese heritage. But even part of what is most dear to her, her daughter Mary, slips away from her because Hana refuses to relinquish her Japanese ways. Hana loves her Japanese culture, but the more she clings to it, the farther away her daughter moves. Mary represents the opposite of Hana. Mary wants all things American. Mary wants nothing to do with her parents’ Japanese culture, so she pushes herself away from her parents and even from the West Coast, where many Japanese people live. Mary even tries to remove herself further by marrying a man with European ancestors and then giving birth to a biracial child.

Hana points out the culture clash in her husband, Taro, who wants Hana to be more submissive to him, as most Japanese women of her time were taught to be. Yet Taro also wants Hana to internalize American culture as he encourages her to learn English, to be married in a gown that reflects American fashion tastes, and to relinquish her Japanese mannerisms, such as bowing to guests and uttering typical traditional Japanese phrases upon inviting guests into their home. This same clash is exhibited in Hana’s daughter. Though Mary wants to dress in a Japanese kimono to celebrate International Day at her school and asks her mother to bring the kimono to the school and to help her and the other students dress themselves properly, she is so embarrassed by her mother that she sends Hana out the back doors of the school and does not invite her mother to attend the presentation. Mary, in other words, is willing to dress in a Japanese costume, but she still wants to distance herself from being Japanese.
Dreams versus Reality

As Hana sails from Japan to the United States, her mind is filled with pleasant dreams about the future. She imagines her new life in California will be everything that her life in her small Japanese village is not. As she lands on the shores of the West Coast, her dreams begin to fade. This pattern of idealizing the future only to be disappointed by the reality continues throughout the story as her fantasies come face to face with actual circumstances. Taro is not the dashing, young lover she envisioned. He is not a wealthy merchant. Hana will not have a life of leisure. She will lose the man she truly loves and will never have a son. One by one, her hopes are dashed, as Hana faces each new challenge. Once she finds a comforting dream, reality rushes in. She envisions a son, and her daughter turns into someone she hardly knows; she anticipates a close community, and her neighbors are cold-hearted, closed-minded people. Even her adopted country, which she assumes stands for freedom, actually turns into a racial and prejudicial prison. She barely gets to know her grandchild, and her husband is murdered. In spite of all her disappointments, however, somehow Hana finds the courage and patience to dream again. As the story ends, readers cannot help but believe that with the help of her friend Kiku, Hana finds the...

(The entire section is 1587 words.)