Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Two important themes are central to an understanding and appreciation of the poem: movement or relocation and the larger issue of the clash of Japanese ethnicity with American culture.

The bird imagery in the poem, beginning with the screech of seagulls at the dock when Grandfather Uyemura meets his future wife, symbolizes the flight that characterizes the grandfather’s life: immigration, return to Japan for a bride, return to America to seek his fortune, forced relocation in the internment camp, and return to his homeland. Putting down roots in a new country has not been possible for Grandfather Uyemura (although there are indications that it will be for his son), whose adult life has been marked by a continual pattern of flight. He is like the origami crane that he himself designs.

As the poem’s title, “relocation” names what once must have been Grandfather Uyemura’s sought-after personal goal. By the end of the poem some twenty years later, though, his return to his place of birth and to composing a verse form that is particularly Japanese indicate that American culture has not assimilated him and that he has settled on his culture of origin as his ethnic identity. As early as stanza 2, “pale ghosts” are gathering, which may be read as hakujin, or white people, that surround the Japanese couple in America. (The practice of labeling non-Asian people as “ghosts” is given extensive treatment in the works of another Asian American writer, Maxine Hong...

(The entire section is 613 words.)