Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533
If I were to analyze Hisaye Yamamoto’s short story “Seventeen Syllables,” a story about the struggles of a Japanese family living in America, I would focus on 1) the historical and cultural context, 2) the parallel narratives of the mother and daughter, and 3) the use of haiku as a metaphor to drive the narrative structure and conflict.
First, Yamamoto wrote the story after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to initiate World War II and as a result, Japanese families living in America, like her own, were racially profiled and forced to live in internment camps. Yamamoto was a young woman when she and her family were forced to live in a camp in Poston, Arizona and she started writing stories for a newspaper in order to maintain some sense of freedom. She also was part of the Nisei generation, which was the first generation of American-born Japanese who, unlike their (Issei) immigrant parents, were integrated into American culture and struggled to relate to their parents and their traditions. Therefore, her short story about a young girl, Rosie, who can’t understand or relate to her mother, Tome, is semi-autobiographical.
Another unique aspect of Yamamoto’s story is her use of perspective and the parallel narrative structure. The beginning of the story is narrated from the narrow, subjective point of view of young Rosie as she she pulls away from her mother's traditional culture in preference of a more modern one. The telling of the story from only Rosie’s perspective in the beginning further accentuates Tome’s voicelessness and restraint, despite her struggle against her husband to be herself and have her own writing career. While Tome tries in vain to connect to and relate her hopes and fears for her daughter through the haikus that she writes, the language barrier is too great and Rosie is too distracted by her love for a young man from a different culture outside of her own to listen or heed her advice. It isn't until the end that the reader learns that despite the generation gap, the two women are more similar than they seem.
Finally, there is the great significance of the haiku poem as a symbol of Japanese culture and a metaphor for the two female characters’ struggle for freedom, restraint of spirit, and estrangement from each other. Traditionally, haiku poems are very short, succinct poems of only 3 lines (seventeen syllables) that seem simple, yet must somehow convey the spirituality, harmony and natural order of all things in just a few words. Much like this, Tome must express her creativity and independent spirit within the confines of her short poems as well as express herself and the mistakes of her past to her own daughter, the latter to which she fails. The story, much like a haiku poem, develops over three short months in which Rosie has a sexual awakening while her mother’s writing career transforms and blossoms. In this short amount of time the two women must live their lives to the fullest before ultimately having their hopes and dreams extinguished by the male-dominated, traditional Japanese culture they live in where women must be passive, powerless, and obedient to their husbands and fathers.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 307
Haiku serves as the metaphor of the narrative technique employed in the story. Haiku is supposed to convey the packed emotion of poets while offering their observation of the outer world. It is for the reader to connect the inner and outer worlds. The poet is required to choose words carefully, as the poem may contain only seventeen syllables.
As haiku demands a reducing of words, this story intentionally holds back some information. Mrs. Hayano’s insanity is simply narrated as a fact, but no...
(The entire section contains 907 words.)
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