In "Seventeen Syllables," what does the last sentence 'the embrace and consoling hand came much later than she expected.' mean and what does this symbolize?

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tmcquade eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After Rosie's father burns the prize painting her mother has just won for her haiku poetry, Rosie's mother bitterly reveals her past - her hurts and pains - to Rosie.  Rosie learns that her mother loved another man but could not marry him because she was from a poor family, that her mother gave birth to a stillborn son (the son of the man she loved), that her family was ashamed of her, that she had no hope for a life of happiness in Japan, and that as a result of all this, she turned to her aunt to arrange a marriage for her in America so that she could find a life outside Japan.

In America, she found a husband who, for the most part, has been good to her and provided a stable life for her and Rosie, but it is not the life she dreamed of, and he is not a man she has deeply loved or who has made her truly happy.  Discovering her talent for haiku has brought her the first true happiness she has experienced in a long time - but it has come at the expense of time with her family and her husband's comfort, and that leads him to the injurious action he takes.

When she sees her prize - as well as her future joy in writing haiku - destroyed, she feels nothing but bitterness toward her husband.  She urges Rosie to promise never to marry.  When Rosie doesn't immediately agree, but instead looks away, thinking of Jesus - the young man for whom she has recently developed an affection - her mother turns away with a mixture of helplessness and frustration.  She wants to save her daughter from the pain and unhappiness of a "repressed" life, but her daughter is not ready or willing to listen to her advice.  Rosie does not see wisdom in her mother's words, only an unfair and burdensome request, and her mother feels disregarded as a result.

When Rosie tries to smooth things over to win back her mother's affection, she gets a delayed response - "the embrace and consoling hand come much later than she expected" - and she sees that her mother is disappointed in her.  This shows that her mother's unhappiness and disappointments through the years have caused her to create barriers to protect herself from too much personal intimacy, and that while she will always ultimately be there for Rosie, even with her daughter a kind of barrier exists to true communion.