Ideal Versus Real Relationships
In the novel Picture Bride, Uchida’s protagonist, Hana, struggles throughout the second half of this story in her relationship with her daughter, Mary. Mary is Hana’s only child, for Hana miscarried a son previous to Mary’s birth. The loss of Hana’s son causes great emotional strain on Hana. She takes his death as a sign that she has done something wrong. As time passes, Hana learns to heal herself. One way she does this is to take in the seminary student Kenji Nishima. In helping Kenji to regain his health, Hana feels forgiven for any wrongs she may have done. This sense of forgiveness does not last long though. As her daughter Mary matures, Hana watches the teenage girl pull away from her. The loss of Mary is devastating for Hana, as Mary purposefully removes herself from Hana’s influence. Unlike the death of Hana’s son, regarding which Hana achieves a sense of closure, Mary’s rejection of Hana is ongoing. In an attempt to heal her heart and soul, Hana takes a greater interest in Kenji, who becomes a surrogate son for Hana. Later in the story, when Kenji falls in love, Hana, at least on a psychological level, adopts Kenji’s new bride, Sumiko, as a surrogate daughter. Through both subtle and not so subtle allusions to Kenji and Sumiko, the author sets up a reflection between the ideal and the real as she compares the son and daughter that Hana dreamed of having and the children that Hana bore.
Hana endures many tragedies in this story. She falls in love with a man who is not her husband and then sees him die. She also loses her husband. Other losses include her connections to her Japanese culture, her home, her dignity, and most of the material wealth that she and her husband acquire over the course of their marriage. But the most devastating loss in Hana’s life comes through the loss of her children. The first child that she loses is her son. The miscarriage of her son is linked, at least in Hana’s mind, with her love for Kiyoshi Yamaka, the handsome young man who takes an interest in Hana the first time he sets eyes on her. Hana is equally attracted to Kiyoshi and invites him into her life. She tells him that she is saddened by the bad timing of their meeting. Hana wishes they had met before she promised herself to Taro. They admit their love of one another and are unable to conceal their affection in front of Taro and their other acquaintances. But when Kiyoshi wants to express his love for Hana on a physical level, when he wants to make love to her, Hana realizes they have gone too far. So she stops him. This, however, does not stop her love from further development. She tells Kiyoshi that she will love him forever. Unfortunately, Kiyoshi dies shortly after this, and so too does the baby boy that Hana is carrying. In this way, Kiyoshi and the baby boy are linked. Hana believes that the loss of her son is the price that she must pay for her illicit love of Kiyoshi. She had wanted to give birth to this son as a tribute to her husband, Taro. Hana thought that the son would make up for her transgressions (her love of Kiyoshi) and the subsequent pain that love caused Taro. With the death of her son, this chance vanishes. Hana has to carry the guilt, which is quite intense, until Kenji Nishima comes into her life.
Kenji is a student like Kiyoshi was, but Hana’s interest in Kenji is quite different from the sexual attraction she felt for Kiyoshi. In some ways, Kenji represents Kiyoshi, though. Both are young, lonesome, and starved for attention and nourishment. When the opportunity arises that signifies an urgent need in Kenji’s life, Hana offers herself and her home by way of supporting and nurturing the young man. Kenji becomes a symbol of two of Hana’s losses—Kiyoshi and the miscarried baby boy. It is through her nourishing of Kenji that Hana, in at least a metaphoric sense, resurrects the lives of Kiyoshi and her son. What she was not able to give to Kiyoshi and to her son, Hana offers to Kenji. She finds the means to feed Kenji physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so that Kenji rises from his illness and is filled with zeal. Hana believes that if she is successful in saving Kenji, she will be forgiven for having loved a man who was not her husband and for having miscarried Taro’s son.
Even with Kenji’s return to health, however, Hana’s troubles are not over. Although she carries her next pregnancy to term and gives...
(The entire section is 1798 words.)