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Last Updated on July 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 145

"Seventeen Syllables" by Hisaye Yamamoto is a short story about the experiences of Japanese-American immigrants, such as language barriers, legal restrictions, and cultural conflicts.

"Seventeen Syllables" follows Rosie Hayashi, who struggles to identify with her Japanese heritage and connect with her mother Tome. The relationship is strained particularly by Rosie's...

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"Seventeen Syllables" by Hisaye Yamamoto is a short story about the experiences of Japanese-American immigrants, such as language barriers, legal restrictions, and cultural conflicts.

"Seventeen Syllables" follows Rosie Hayashi, who struggles to identify with her Japanese heritage and connect with her mother Tome. The relationship is strained particularly by Rosie's inability to speak Japanese and Tome's inability to speak English. Tome attempts to connect with her daughter by sharing her haikus, but Rosie is not able to understand the short poems.

A romance blossoms between Rosie and Jesus Carrasco, a young Mexican man. Rosie's relationship with her family becomes more complicated as she begins to notice the lack of love in her parents' marriage and her father's abuse. Rosie's mother reveals the tragic events that led to the marriage and begs her to never marry. Rosie is conflicted due to her burgeoning relationship with Jesus.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563

The Hayashi family lives in a small farming community near Los Angeles. Mrs. Hayashi has begun to write haiku, but when she tries to share the joy of creating poetry with her daughter, Rosie is unable to appreciate her works because she cannot speak Japanese, her mother’s native tongue. Mrs. Hayashi’s English is no better than Rosie’s Japanese. When Rosie wants to share a haiku poem that she has found in her mother’s magazine, it is impossible for her to convey to her mother the meaning of the poem written in English and French. All Rosie does when shown her mother’s poems is utter words of affirmation, instead of telling her mother that she does not fully understand them.

When Rosie’s family visits the Hayanos, another Japanese immigrant family, her mother is absorbed in a discussion of haiku with Mr. Hayano. While Rosie enjoys herself with the four daughters of the family, who are named after the seasons in Japanese, Rosie’s father is forced into conversation with Mrs. Hayano, who has mental problems. When he decides suddenly to leave the Hayanos’ home without giving any signal to his wife, Rosie is puzzled and Mrs. Hayashi finally notices his irritation. On the way back to their house, Rosie feels angry toward her father because he denies her mother personal enjoyment, and she is angry toward her mother because she does not confront her husband’s tyranny.

Paralleling her mother’s devotion to writing, Rosie is engrossed in her attraction to Jesús, a son of Mexican workers, who attends the same high school that she does. One night, when Rosie’s family has guests, she goes out of the house to meet Jesús, telling the family that she is going to the lavatory outside. That night he kisses her for the first time, and she cannot get him out of her thoughts.

About a month after Mrs. Hayashi starts writing, a man from the Japanese newspaper comes to the Hayashi residence to tell her that she has been awarded first prize in a haiku contest. He has brought an ukiyo-e picture as the prize. It is in the middle of the family’s work on the farm, and the father grows impatient while waiting for his wife to return to work. His irritation toward her indulgence in poetry reaches the point of outrage. He breaks into the conversation and crushes his wife’s prize.

When the man from the newspaper hastily leaves and Rosie approaches her mother, she seems rather calm. Although Rosie is reluctant to listen, her mother tells her of the circumstances surrounding her marriage to Rosie’s father. She had fallen in love with a man whose high family status did not allow her to marry him. After abandoning their newborn child, she wrote to her aunt in the United States for help and came to the states for an arranged marriage with Rosie’s father. The marriage was an alternative to suicide. Having finished the story, the mother kneels down and asks Rosie never to marry. Rosie wonders about the brother whom she has never seen, and thinks of Jésus, whom she adores. She agrees to her mother’s request and then starts crying. Although the mother consoles her, Rosie feels that the consoling hands have come later than she thought.

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