The Teahouse of the August Moon Analysis

John Patrick

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sakini, a middle-aged Okinawan man wearing oversized army boots and socks, sets the tone for The Teahouse of the August Moon when he greets the audience with typical Oriental formality. After examining the audience curiously, and chewing gum furiously, he stores the gum, resumes his dignified stance, and introduces himself, concluding with a bit of folk wisdom: “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.”

Act 1 introduces Colonel Purdy, a U.S. Army officer assigned to democratize Okinawa after World War II, and Sergeant Gregovich, Purdy’s assistant. Sakini alternately serves as commentator and actor to establish Purdy’s character as a single-minded individual who only knows how to follow orders without question. Captain Fisby, a new aide assigned to Purdy, also arrives. He is in his late twenties, earnest and eager to make a good impression. Fisby has been transferred out of virtually every outfit in the army. Purdy is disappointed over the assignment of this “misfit,” but he points out that one must adjust to succeed as a soldier: When he was told to “teach these natives the meaning of Democracy,” he accepted the order without question. Fisby, formerly an associate professor of humanities, is handed Plan B for establishing an industry in Tobiki, a plan which anticipates all questions and requires no thinking to implement. He is to build a pentagon-shaped schoolhouse and organize a Women’s League for Democratic Action in Tobiki.

Sakini becomes Fisby’s interpreter, and they prepare to leave. Fisby salutes smartly and departs; Purdy searches for his adventure magazine. A jeep arrives, piled high with bundles and with an old woman sitting on top. Fisby tells Sakini to get rid of the woman, but Sakini succeeds in convincing Fisby that not only the old woman must stay, but also her daughter, her grandchildren, some goats, and finally an ancient man.

The journey—only four days on foot—takes ten days because the group is repeatedly sidetracked. Fisby cannot say no; he always succumbs to Sakini’s intervention on the Okinawans’ behalf. Arriving in Tobiki, Fisby holds a formal public meeting and receives various gifts. One gift, a lacquered cup, gives Fisby the idea of a souvenir industry for Tobiki. Then the plan for a school is explained, and, while the people like the idea of education, they want to know more about democracy. Fisby gives an unclear definition, but Sakini cleverly manages to explain things away, and the people applaud Fisby. Fisby initiates elections for public officials, but the people chosen have absolutely no experience in the areas for which they are...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

From the outset of The Teahouse of the August Moon, several devices are used to make the audience transfer their thinking to Okinawa after World War II. As the curtain opens, bamboo panels suggest the Asian setting, and, although Sakini has an American face, his costume is sufficiently native for him to be accepted as Okinawan. Moreover, the fact that he is wearing ridiculously oversized army-issue shoes and socks suggests the immediate postwar setting while identifying the play as comic rather than tragic.

Sakini introduces each act by commenting to the audience on Okinawa’s record of defeat in the past and on other matters that establish the need for cross-cultural understanding. His use of folk wisdom and pseudophilosophical comments in fragmented English further make clear the bicultural nature of the play, as does the use of stereotypic motions such as bowing and hand clapping. Thus, his commentary functions as the soliloquy does in some plays.

Using something of a reversal of dramatic irony, Sakini more often than not speaks in the guise of sincerity and fact, but because he uses a fallacious line of reasoning, the audience is aware that Sakini is not naïve—quite the contrary—he employs the facade of politeness in order to state what is almost the opposite of his intended meaning. In addition to introductory comments, Sakini makes numerous asides, interpretive and amusing, that allow the audience, throughout the play, to...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

World War II
World War II was waged from August 31, 1939, until August 14, 1945, between the Axis powers (including Germany,...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

The play is set during the American Occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War U It takes place on the island of...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1939-1945: World War II is waged between the Axis and the Allied powers from 1939 to 1945. The war ends soon after the United States...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

This play takes place during the American Occupation of Japan in the aftermath of World War II. Learn more about the American defeat of Japan...

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Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

The Teahouse of the August Moon was adapted to the screen by John Patrick in a 1956 film, directed by Daniel Mann and starring Marlon...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

The Hasty Heart: A Play in Three Acts (1945) is John Patrick's first successful stage play.

Southern Exposure: Modern...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Atkinson, Brooks, Review in New York Times, October 16, 1953, p 32.

--------- Review in New York...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Clurman, Harold. Review in The Nation 178 (May 15, 1954): 429-430.

Haily, Foster. Review in New York Times, August 14, 1955, sec. 2, p. 1.

Matlaw, Myron. “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” In Modern World Drama: An Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1972.

Moe, Christian H. “John Patrick.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 4th ed. Chicago: St. James, 1988.

Shipley, Joseph J. Guide to Great Plays. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1956.

Sneider, Vern....

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