Character List

Father—the narrator’s father. His wife died about two years before the story opens, and his business has folded since the suicide of his business partner. He welcomes home his son, whom he has not seen for an unspecified period of time.

Mother—the narrator’s mother. She died two years earlier from eating a poisoned fish.

Son—the narrator of the story. He is returning home to Japan after living abroad in California for an unspecified period of time. While away, he was emotionally estranged from his parents.

Kikuko—the narrator’s sister. Several years younger than her brother, she is attending college in Osaka and making tentative plans to travel to California with her boyfriend.

Suichi—Kikuko’s boyfriend in Osaka. He represents the younger Japanese generation.

Vicki—the son’s former girlfriend in California. She represents Western values that the parents do not understand and that threaten their traditional way of life.

Watanabe—the father’s former business partner. He committed suicide and killed his family when his business failed.

Character Analysis

The narrator describes his father as “a formidable-looking man with a large stony jaw and furious black eyebrows” who once “struck [him] several times around the head for chattering like an old woman.” Prizing manly behavior in the form of stoic reserve, he speaks in short, choppy sentences, such as when he describes Watanabe as “a fine man. A man of principle,” a statement that also reveals the traditional values with which he struggles as he faces his future alone. He wants to reconcile with his son, acknowledging “he could have been a better father” and now has “a little more time” on his hands, by which he means too much time and he feels lonely and without purpose. Although he has difficulty saying so, he wants his son to return to Japan to live with him. However, even though his daughter lives nearby, he does not understand her much better than he does his son, for he repeatedly says “she is a good girl,” not knowing that she smokes and is contemplating a trip hitchhiking across California with her boyfriend. Although he does not immediately tell his son that his partner killed his daughters when he killed himself, later, when his son asks him if he thought this was a “mistake” (a term fraught with understatement), the father says, “Of course....There are other things besides work,” again suggesting he now is beginning to temper his traditional values of honor with an expanded appreciation of life, but still indicating his deep reserve in that he cannot express the absolute horror of killing oneself and one’s family as a result of a failure in business.

Although dead when the story opens, the mother and her presence lingers in conversation and in the apparition the narrator sees while at the well with Kikuko. The mother, like her husband, was a woman of tradition, symbolically sacrificing her life to it in that she ate the dangerous fugu fish rather than risk insulting a friend. Her white kimono in the picture that her son...

(The entire section is 822 words.)