Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Typical of Mori’s writing style, the narrative pace of “Japanese Hamlet” is deliberate and almost leisurely. The writer effectively uses a first-person narrative. The narrator is observant and contemplative, but his professed candor does not conceal the fact that his perception is limited and subjective. This creates an ambiguity about Fukunaga’s appearance in the story. Like Fukunaga’s relatives, the narrator finally starts to question the practicality of Fukunaga’s aspiration and the true motive behind his decision to remain a schoolboy in his thirties. The narrator recalls a conversation in which Fukunaga confides that he would not be richer if he worked for someone and had to pay for his room, board, and carfare. Fukunaga nevertheless implores the reader’s admiration and sympathy, partly because the subjective propensity of the first-person narrative point of view usually creates a distance between the narrator and the reader.

“Japanese Hamlet” is a tragicomedy. Mori’s use of humor in the story works expediently well with his thematic concerns. The title, for example, sounds as cacophonous as it is facetious. The seeming incompatibility of the two terms also calls the reader’s attention to a painful paradox faced by many Japanese Americans in the first half of the twentieth century: Its tragic tone is accentuated by the impossibility of Fukunaga’s fulfilling his dream—especially in a society that treats people according to their skin color. Mori’s use of humor in the story thus fits the definition of what Max F. Schulz calls “black humor”: the kind of humor used to portray “an absurd world devoid of intrinsic values, with a resultant tension between individual and universe.” The fact that “Japanese Hamlet” was written two years before 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them American citizens, were sent to relocation camps further underlines the story’s apocalyptic significance, demonstrating the necessity to create a society in which tragedies similar to Fukunaga’s life can be avoided.