In Japanese by Spring, cross-cultural conflicts are a big issue.  How does Reed illustrate the theme of passing (i.e. passing for another race or class) in the novel?  As a satire, how do campus...

In Japanese by Spring, cross-cultural conflicts are a big issue.  How does Reed illustrate the theme of passing (i.e. passing for another race or class) in the novel?  As a satire, how do campus life at Jack London College and the culture wars mix?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Cross-cultural conflicts sure are a big issue in Japanese by Spring!  Although I must admit that I don't really understand what you mean by the "theme of passing" except in regard to those cross-cultural conflicts.  Therefore, let me expand upon the "passing" across cultures creating conflict in the novel and, therefore, answer your question.  The conflict that passes between cultures here involves three segments (interestingly enough, two based on color and one on nationality):  black, white, and Japanese.  Let's look at them each in turn in regard to this satire.

The black community is represented by Puttbutt (and other members of his family) in Japanese by Spring.  Ironically, Puttbutt represents his culture by denying their civil rights.  He defends the lynching of black students.  In his earlier life, he has an adulterous affair with his Japanese professor's wife.  As Puttbutt himself is ridiculed by a horrible white student name Bass, Puttbutt defends Bass for expressing his freedom of speech.  Even the head of the African Studies department asks Puttbutt to simply get along with his colleagues and students.  Things shift dramatically when the Japanese take over the college in that Puttbutt suddenly becomes an authority figure by being named Vice President.  It isn't long before Puttbutt realizes he is simply a puppet and opposes the administration.  At the end Puttbutt is informed that Japan plans to take over the country.

The white community is, unfortunately, represented by Bass:  a disgusting bigot who is first lauded and then chastened for his bigotry.  Ironically, the black Puttbutt is on Bass' side so as not to "rock the boat," but then Bass is suspended and his rich father stops giving money to the college, which allows the Japanese to infiltrate.

The Japanese community is represented mainly by Dr. Yamoto.  Not only was he Puttbutt's tutor at one time, but he eventually becomes the president of the university and changes the university's name from Jack London University to Hideki Tojo University (after the prime minister of Japan during the height of the fighting between Japan and the US during World War II).  Yamoto, of course, is in favor of the eventual takeover of the US by Japan in modern times.

In conclusion, we can see how the conficts surely do "pass" from one culture to another in this satirical novel.  Further, we can see issues with each culture based on the satirical names they are given such as "Puttbutt" and "Jack Only" and my favorite "Bright Stool."  Further, no one ever seems to "win" and chaos reigns. 

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