Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Haiku serves as the metaphor of the narrative technique employed in the story. Haiku is supposed to convey the packed emotion of poets while offering their observation of the outer world. It is for the reader to connect the inner and outer worlds. The poet is required to choose words carefully, as the poem may contain only seventeen syllables.

As haiku demands a reducing of words, this story intentionally holds back some information. Mrs. Hayano’s insanity is simply narrated as a fact, but no accounts follow. Nor is the motivation for Mrs. Hayashi’s writing explained. Apparently these episodes are related to the Japanese immigrants’ dismay over their linguistic disadvantage.

The author uses haiku as the representation of the traditional Japanese culture, as well as of Mrs. Hayashi’s packed emotions. Rosie’s incapacity to appreciate her mother’s haiku highlights the linguistic and cultural gap between them. Not understanding the language used in the mother’s poems, Rosie does not decipher the mother’s complex inner feelings or her need to write. The only emotion narrated in the story is Rosie’s, and the contrast of Rosie’s inner voice with the absence of her parents’ voices shows that the story is narrated from her perspective. At the same time, the silence of Rosie’s parents shows the strict self-control that their native culture has encouraged in them.

Hisaye Yamamoto’s writing itself signifies the essence of haiku poetry. Yamamoto shows the gap between the first and second generations of Japanese Americans by sketching the Hayashi family concisely. Yamamoto, a Japanese American herself, is not foreign to the generational gap shown in the story. As emotions are condensed in haiku, Yamamoto puts all her emotion into a short story. She offers only a brief illustration of the Hayashi family, and seldom describes the characters’ emotions.

Seventeen Syllables Bibliography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Cheung, King-Kok. “Double-Telling: Intertextual Silence in Hisaye Yamamoto’s Fiction.” American Literary History 3, no. 2 (1991): 277-293.

Cheung, King-Kok, ed. Seventeen Syllables. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.

Yogi, Stan. Legacies Revealed: Uncovering Buried Plots in the Stories of Hisaye Yamamoto. Studies in American Fiction 17, no. 2 (1989): 169-181.