The Buddha in the Attic

by Julie Otsuka
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What are some diasporic themes in the novel The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka?

Diasporic themes in Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic include vulnerability, labor exploitation, racism, language, and generational differences.

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Julie Otsuka’s novel The Buddha in the Attic addresses numerous issues related to diaspora. Some of the issues she raises are specific to the experience of Japanese and Japanese American people in the first half of the twentieth century. Most of the diasporic themes connect with experiences of other immigrants in the United States.

The broadest general concern that the author points out is the vulnerability of immigrants. The Japanese women have traveled far from their homeland to marry and make a new life in the California, leaving behind their families. While some of the marriages turn out well, the isolated women are extremely vulnerable and their husbands are often not much more secure than they are.

One place this vulnerability is evident is in the limited opportunities for work that are available to people of Japanese heritage and the closely related issue of housing segregation. They must not only work hard for low wages but also live separately from their Euro-American coworkers. Vulnerability is closely connected with racism, as difference is almost invariably associated with race. Both themes become painfully evident during World War II, when Japanese Americans are detained and incarcerated—even those who are citizens by birth or naturalization.

Language is another diasporic theme that connects both with vulnerability and with generational differences. The women portrayed in the novel arrive without knowing English, and their opportunities to learn are shown as extremely limited. Not having English further limits their abilities for upward mobility or legal defense of their civil rights. In addition, language is a clear dividing line between the Japanese-born parents and their US-born children, who grow up speaking English and often rejecting Japanese language and culture.

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