Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A third-generation Japanese American, a Sansei, Mura grew up on baseball and apple pie in a Chicago suburb, where he heard more Yiddish than Japanese. He cultivated a Eurocentric worldview, avidly reading books by white male authors, cheering for American GIs fighting the Japanese in war movies, and identifying with European traditions. Mura’s conflicts with his parents, which is at the heart of “An Argument: On 1942,” stem from many things. Politically, his father was a Republican; Mura was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and wore his hair long. His father wanted him to become a lawyer; Mura wanted to be a poet. His parents sensed that assimilation, obliterating their ethnicity, was the way to claim the American Dream for themselves and their son. They never mentioned their years in the relocation camps. They seldom spoke of their roots, de-emphasized their skin color, and even modified their surname, which had been Uyemura, to sound less exotic.

The penultimate line of the poem is seeringly telling in its apposition; the poet’s father asks, agonizingly, why his son cannot just accept “how far we’ve come, how much I can’t recall.” The first clause asks for validation, for gratitude on the son’s part for what the parents have attained in fitting into American society and thereby achieving success for the family. The second clause begs respect for their silence, asks their son to back off from subjects they have worked for...

(The entire section is 433 words.)