The love affair between Ishmael and Hatsue grew out of innocence and familiarity because they had known each other since they were very young. In fact, their first kiss was when they were ten years old. Romance bloomed when they were teenagers. They met secretly in a large hollow cedar tree where they talked and ventured slowly into a physical relationship. Because of the community (and larger society) in which they lived, they knew they must keep their relationship secret from everyone else, including their families. At school, they barely acknowledged each other. When Hatsue was sent to Manzanar, Ishmael devised a plan so that they could write to each other, but it required using false names and ruses. Because of the limits on their relationship, they never experienced the fullness of being young and in love.
Both Ishmael and Hatsue felt badly for keeping such a secret from their families, but Hatsue is bothered by this secret more than is Ishmael. She feels a deep sense of trust and loyalty to her family, so to hide her romance from them is distressing. Her choice to continue the relationship was selfish because she was involved in something she knew her parents would forbid her to see. Ishmael did not fully understand the cultural influences on Hatsue or how they affected her emotional unavailability to him, and so he never really grasped why she remained somewhat distant. He believed they could run away together and everything would be fine, while Hatsue knew that she could never leave her family responsibilities. Ishmael was a young dreamer, as the narrator explains in chapter twelve:
Sometimes at night he would squeeze his eyes shut and imagine how it might be to marry her. It did not seem so farfetched to him that they might move to some other place in the world where this would be possible. He liked to think about being with Hatsue in some place like Switzerland or Italy or France. He gave his whole soul to love; he allowed himself to believe that his feelings for Hatsue had been somehow preordained. He had been meant to meet her on the beach as a child and then to pass his life with her.
Where Ishmael was a romantic, however, Hatsue was bound to the traditions of her culture. Not only did Ishmael and Hatsue face external social barriers to their romance, they also faced fundamental internalized cultural barriers that they were too young to handle.
The theme of guilt runs throughout the novel, touching individual characters at various levels. Kabuo is on trial in court, the forum of...
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