What are the motifs in the Picture Bride?

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An important motif in Picture Bride is the theme of dreams versus reality. Hana, a picture bride, sails from Japan to the United States. She is eager to escape the drudgery of farm work in her village. She dreams of a happy future, full of promise and adventure, and she imagines her husband as a dashing young lover. As she lands on the shores of the West Coast, her fantasies fade away, and she comes face-to-face with the realities of life. Her husband, Taro, is much older than her and does not resemble his picture. He is not the romantic partner that Hana hoped for, and is not too successful either. Each day she faces a new challenge, whether it is racial prejudice, a close-minded community, or a strained relationship with her daughter.

Another motif is marital conflict. Hana realizes that she cannot love Taro. But Taro is a good man who works hard, protects his family, and stays true to Hana. Despite a lack of love, the couple develops a deep friendship. Hana falls in love with Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi is a handsome man who flirts and flatters Hana, and is closer to her in age. Hana does not want to hurt Taro's feelings. She represses her emotions and decides to look upon Kiyoshi as a friend.

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Picture Bride deals primarily with the motifs of cultural isolation and, eventually, attempted assimilation.  Hana's isolation from Japanese culture is exemplified in differences such as clothing, religion, food and language. Her isolation is also further expressed in her fairly loveless marriage; she is isolated from everything she knows even though she has married.

Assimilation is a motif in that Hana must make decisions to become more American through dress, speech and her closest friendships. The traditional role of a wife must be reevaluated once Hana becomes closer to her husband. She must assimilate to American ideals when she makes a disturbing discovery about her husband's business that challenges her prior beliefs about social standing.  The author drives this point home in the portion of the book that deals with the internment of people of Japanese descent during WWII.

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