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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391

The main character in East Is East is a twenty-year-old Japanese American man, Hiro Tanaka. The story traces his escapades when he deserts from a freighter he works on as it nears the US coast. Trying to hide from the authorities in a Georgia swamp, Hiro finds himself alongside a renowned artists’ colony, Thanatopsis. The author portrays Hiro as both deeply committed to studying ancient Japanese culture, especially the achievements of and writings about the samurai and their noble ways, and simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by the mythically abundant modern US culture. Ironically, hidden in the swamp, Hiro is about as far from metropolitan consumerism as possible. Although Hiro has broken numerous laws by jumping ship and entering the United States illegally, he is given an engaging, innocent demeanor and so impresses the reader as a likable, hapless protagonist—a kind of modern-day Candide.

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Another main character is Ruth Dershowitz, a young American writer in residence at the colony, who takes Hiro in and helps him survive. She allows him to hang out in her cabin and gives him food. Ruth, however, seems to be shallow and insincere. Although she does not turn Hiro in, she is shown as using him to advance her career. Ruth has shown great promise and attended prestigious writing schools, such as Iowa, but has only published four short stories. Motivated not by love for art but rather by love for fame, she opportunistically takes advantage of Hiro’s plight. She is the lover of...

(The entire section contains 391 words.)

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