Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because of their struggle with English, most Issei—first-generation immigrants from Japan—describe their experience in the United States in Japanese. Their writings were published mainly in local Japanese newspapers. Until the late twentieth century, few of those works were translated into English. As a Nisei writer, Toshio Mori wanted to introduce the Japanese American community to the general reading public in the United States. His thematic preoccupation with the sense of community, the conflict between the mainstream U.S. culture and traditional Japanese culture, and the necessity to bridge the two cultures has caused several critics, including William Saroyan, to refer to him as the first real Japanese American writer.

“Japanese Hamlet,” however, is not just a story about cultural conflict. It is true that Fukunaga was apparently caught in the clash between the boundless optimism and individual freedom of choice that mark United States culture, and traditional Japanese culture, which places practicality above ideals. When there is a conflict between individual aspiration for self-fulfillment and a person’s social and familial obligation, the traditional Japanese ethic would expect a person to forfeit his or her claim to individual freedom in exchange for communal harmony. The correlation between Fukunaga’s experience and that of Hamlet also suggests that the thematic appeal of Mori’s portrayal of collisions between dream and reality,...

(The entire section is 443 words.)