Hisaye Yamamoto (b. 1921)
Contributing Editor: King Kok Cheung
Classroom Issues and Strategies
It is useful to spend some time introducing Japanese American history and culture, especially the practice of "picture bride" (which sheds light on the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Hayashi) and the style of communication among Issei and Nisei.
It would be helpful to analyze "Seventeen Syllables" in terms of a double plot: the overt one concerning Rosie and the covert one concerning Mrs. Hayashi. Students often relate to the interaction between mother and daughter and are appalled by Mr. Hayashi's callousness.
Instructors may also consider showing Hot Summer Winds, a film written and directed by Emiko Omori, and based on Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables" and "Yoneko's Earthquake." It was first broadcast in May 1991 as part of PBS's American Playhouse series.
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues
1. The relatively restrained interaction between Issei (first generation) and Nisei (second generation) as a result of both cultural prescription and language barrier;
2. The historical practice of "picture bride," according to which the bride and the groom had only seen each other's photos before marriage;
3. The theme of aborted creativity; and
4. The sexual and racial barriers faced by the author herself, who came of age in an internment camp during World War II.
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
Stress the narrative strategies of the author, especially her use of naïve narrator. While Yamamoto may have been influenced by the modernist experimentation with limited point of view, she also capitalizes on the scant verbal interchange between her Japanese American characters to build suspense and tension.
The work has always been intended for a multicultural audience, but the reader's appreciation will undoubtedly be enhanced by knowledge of Japanese American history and culture.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
1. James Joyce (Dubliners) for the use of naïve narrator;
2. Grace Paley for the interaction between husbands and wives, between immigrant parents and their children; and
3. Wakako Yamauchi and Amy Tan for the relationship between mothers and daughters.
Questions for Reading and Discussion/Approaches to Writing
1. (a) How do cultural differences complicate intergenerational communication in "Seventeen Syllables"?
(b) Are there any connections between the episodes about Rosie and those about her mother?
(c) What effects does the author achieve by using a limited point of view?
2. (a) How does Yamamoto connect the two plots concerning Rosie and her mother in "Seventeen Syllables"?
(b) Analyze the theme of deception in "Seventeen Syllables."
(c) Compare the use of the daughter's point of view in Hisaye Yamamoto's "Seventeen Syllables" and Grace Paley's "The Loudest Voice."
(d) Compare the communication between parents and child in "Seventeen Syllables" and in Grace Paley's "The Loudest Voice."
(e) Contrast the story "Seventeen Syllables" and the film Hot Summer Winds.
Cheung, King-Kok. Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.
--. "Introduction." Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories by Hisaye Yamamoto. New York: Kitchen Table, 1988. xi-xxv.
--, ed. "Seventeen Syllables." New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994.
Crow, Charles L. "The Issei Father in the Fiction of Hisaye Yamamoto." Opening Up Literary Criticism: Essays on American Prose and Poetry, edited by Leo Truchlar, 34-40. Salzburg: Verlag Wolfgang Neugebauer, 1986.
--. "A MELUS Interview: Hisaye Yamamoto." MELUS 14.1 (1987): 73-84.
Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. Chapter 5.
McDonald, Dorothy Ritsuko and Katharine Newman. "Relocation and Dislocation: The Writings of Hisaye Yamamoto and Wakako Yamauchi." MELUS 6.3 (1980): 21-38.
Nakamura, Cayleen. "Seventeen Syllables": A Curriculum Guide for High School Classroom Use in Conjunction with "Hot Summer Winds." Los Angeles: Community Television of Southern California, 1991.
Yogi, Stan. "Legacies Revealed: Uncovering Buried Plots in the Stories of Hisaye Yamamoto." Studies in American Fiction 17.2 (1989): 169-81.
--. "Rebels and Heroines: Subversive Narratives in the Stories of Wakako Yamauchi and Hisaye Yamamoto." In Reading the Literatures of Asian America, edited by Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling, 131-50. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.