The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sakini, a middle-aged Okinawan man wearing oversized army boots and socks, sets the tone for The Teahouse of the August Moon when he greets the audience with typical Oriental formality. After examining the audience curiously, and chewing gum furiously, he stores the gum, resumes his dignified stance, and introduces himself, concluding with a bit of folk wisdom: “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.”
Act 1 introduces Colonel Purdy, a U.S. Army officer assigned to democratize Okinawa after World War II, and Sergeant Gregovich, Purdy’s assistant. Sakini alternately serves as commentator and actor to establish Purdy’s character as a single-minded individual who only knows how to follow orders without question. Captain Fisby, a new aide assigned to Purdy, also arrives. He is in his late twenties, earnest and eager to make a good impression. Fisby has been transferred out of virtually every outfit in the army. Purdy is disappointed over the assignment of this “misfit,” but he points out that one must adjust to succeed as a soldier: When he was told to “teach these natives the meaning of Democracy,” he accepted the order without question. Fisby, formerly an associate professor of humanities, is handed Plan B for establishing an industry in Tobiki, a plan which anticipates all questions and requires no thinking to implement. He is to build a pentagon-shaped schoolhouse and organize a Women’s League...
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
From the outset of The Teahouse of the August Moon, several devices are used to make the audience transfer their thinking to Okinawa after World War II. As the curtain opens, bamboo panels suggest the Asian setting, and, although Sakini has an American face, his costume is sufficiently native for him to be accepted as Okinawan. Moreover, the fact that he is wearing ridiculously oversized army-issue shoes and socks suggests the immediate postwar setting while identifying the play as comic rather than tragic.
Sakini introduces each act by commenting to the audience on Okinawa’s record of defeat in the past and on other matters that establish the need for cross-cultural understanding. His use of folk wisdom and pseudophilosophical comments in fragmented English further make clear the bicultural nature of the play, as does the use of stereotypic motions such as bowing and hand clapping. Thus, his commentary functions as the soliloquy does in some plays.
Using something of a reversal of dramatic irony, Sakini more often than not speaks in the guise of sincerity and fact, but because he uses a fallacious line of reasoning, the audience is aware that Sakini is not naïve—quite the contrary—he employs the facade of politeness in order to state what is almost the opposite of his intended meaning. In addition to introductory comments, Sakini makes numerous asides, interpretive and amusing, that allow the audience, throughout the play, to...
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World War II
World War II was waged from August 31, 1939, until August 14, 1945, between the Axis powers (including Germany, Italy, and Japan), and the Allied powers (including Great Britain, the USSR, and the United States). The War was carried out on many fronts, primarily in Europe and the South Pacific.
Japanese and United States Relations before Pearl Harbor.
Relations between the United States and Japan had grown increasingly tense over the decade preceding United States entry into World War H. Japan had developed a strongly militaristic foreign policy, with an aggressive stance toward many of its neighbors in Asia and the South Pacific. In 1937, Japan invaded China, initiating the Sino-Japanese War, which continued until the end of World War II. In 1940, Japan formed an alliance with the Axis powers of Germany and Italy by signing the Tripartite Pact between the three nations. In 1941, Japan occupied Indochina. Not yet directly involved in World War II, the United States retaliated for the Japanese invasion of Indochina by freezing all Japanese assets and establishing an embargo on shipments of petroleum and other war materials to Japan.
The United States had maintained a staunch policy of neutrality during the first two years of World War II, although American sympathies leaned increasingly toward Great Britain and against Germany and Japan. Anti-war sentiments immediately changed, however,...
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The play is set during the American Occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War U It takes place on the island of Okinawa, the largest of the Okinawa Islands, in the South China Sea. The setting is central to the play, which explores an attempt at democratization of the native Okmawan culture. The main characters are either U S military personnel or inhabitants of the tiny village of Tobiki, a fictional location.
The dialogue in this play represents two common elements of stereotypical depictions of Asian societies. The Okinawans—Sakini, for instance— speak a broken English that is a stereotypical representation throughout Western culture of the accents of Asian people from any national and linguistic background. This stereotypically broken English may be generally recognizable to many Western readers. For instance, Sakini, the interpreter for the Americans, after removing a piece of chewing gum from his mouth, explains to the audience: ' 'Most generous gift of American sergeant." In explaining to the audience the occupation by American troops, he says1 ' 'History of Okinawa reveal distinguished record of conquerors." This common stereotype is generally considered offensive by many Asians and Asian Americans.
The language of the Okinawans, as represented in the play, is another example of stereotypical representations of non-Western cultures A footnote explains that' 'the Luchuan dialect...
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Compare and Contrast
1939-1945: World War II is waged between the Axis and the Allied powers from 1939 to 1945. The war ends soon after the United States drops an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, and another on the city of Nagasaki three days later. Japan surrenders on August 14.
1945-1952: Upon defeat in World War II, Japan is subject to economic, political, and educational restructuring by Allied Occupation Forces. In 1952, Japan is released from occupation, and all but the Okinawa and Sakishima island chains are returned to Japanese sovereignty
1990s: Relations between the United States and Japan revolve around issues of ongoing tension in regard to fair trade practices and an ongoing agreement to bilateral security in military matters affecting international relations.
1945: Japanese defeat in the battle on Okinawa results in United States occupation of Okinawa.
1945-1952: During the Post-War era, occupation of Japan includes a continued military presence on Okinawa. In 1952, all but the Okinawa and Sakishima island chains are returned to Japanese sovereignty.
1972: The remaining Ryukyu Island chains of Okinawa and Sakishima are finally returned to Japanese sovereignty, and the entire Ryukyu Island archipelago is renamed the prefecture of Okinawa, Japan. However, the United States maintains 88 military bases on the island of Okinawa.
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Topics for Further Study
This play takes place during the American Occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War II. Learn more about the American defeat of Japan and the subsequent Occupation. What were the major battles and events in the conflict between Japan and the United States'? What were the conditions of the defeat of Japan? What were the conditions of the Occupation?
This play concerns the building of a traditional Japanese teahouse, to be serviced by a geisha. Learn more about the Japanese tradition of the tea ceremony. Learn more about the role of the geisha in traditional Japanese society (Americans tend to equate geishas with prostitutes, but they play, in fact, very different societal roles)
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The Teahouse of the August Moon was adapted to the screen by John Patrick in a 1956 film, directed by Daniel Mann and starring Marlon Brando.
The Teahouse of the August Moon was adapted to television by John Patrick in a 1962 Broadcast of' 'Hallmark Hall of Fame,'' by NBC.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Hasty Heart: A Play in Three Acts (1945) is John Patrick's first successful stage play.
Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa (2000), edited by Michael Molasky and Steve Rabson, is a collection of poetry, short stones, and memoirs by modern Okinawan writers.
Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War II (1995), by Robert Leckie, is a history of a decisive battle in World War II.
Democracy and Race: Asian Americans and World War II (1995), by Ronald Takaki, discusses ethnic relations and the experiences of Asian Americans during World War II.
The Japanese Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rilcyu (1998), by Sen Soshitsu XV and translated by V Dixon Morris, presents a history of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art (1995), by Jodi Cobb, includes images of geishas m pictorial art.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Atkinson, Brooks, Review in New York Times, October 16, 1953, p 32.
--------- Review in New York Times, October 25, 1953, p. 1.
---------Review in New York Times, September 12, 1954.
---------Review in New York Times, November 9, 1956, p. 33.
Barnes, Clive, Review in New York Times, December 29, 1970, p. 38.
Marion, John, "John Patrick," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 7. Twentieth Century American Dramatists, edited by John MacNicholas, Gale Research, 1981, pp. 166-71.
Middleton, Drew, Review in New York Times, May 2, 1954, p. 3.
Review in New York Times, April 23,1954, p 23.
Black, Wallace B, and Jean F Blashfleld, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Maxwell Macrmllan International, 1993.
This is a recounting of the World War II battles between the United States and Japan on the islands of
Iwo Jima and Okinawa It is written at the youth level.
Frank, Richard B, Downfall- The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, Random House, 1999.
This is a history of Japan from 1926 to the end of World War II in 1945.
Golden, Arthur, Memoirs of a Geisha- A Novel, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
This widely popular contemporary fiction received much praise from critics and the general public Golden's novel is a...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Clurman, Harold. Review in The Nation 178 (May 15, 1954): 429-430.
Haily, Foster. Review in New York Times, August 14, 1955, sec. 2, p. 1.
Matlaw, Myron. “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” In Modern World Drama: An Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1972.
Moe, Christian H. “John Patrick.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 4th ed. Chicago: St. James, 1988.
Shipley, Joseph J. Guide to Great Plays. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1956.
Sneider, Vern. Review in New York Times, October 11, 1953, sec. 2, p. 1.
“The Teahouse of the August Moon.” Theater Arts 37 (December, 1953): 22-24.
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