In the beginning of the 19th century, Japanese immigrants were welcomed into the United States but as time progressed, the country put a stop to it with the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924. At this time there were many prosperous single Japanese men who were looking to get married. They wanted to keep their traditions and values so many got married to Japanese women who they didn’t know personally. This is still not an uncommon thing-arranged marriages date back to the 17th century and is still evident in Japanese culture today. Another aspect of their culture is their primary focus on family and harmony. This idea of working together and revering the seniors of the family, has led to a very patriarchal dominance in their culture.
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Male superiority is even present in their modes of communication. Women are supposed to bow down to their husbands and minimal eye contact is a sign of humbleness. The Japanese people strive for harmony, and they rely on posture, tone, and facial expression to convey meaning. Non-verbal cues are an imperative part of their culture. These traditions and values were threatened once the Japanese people began to get accustomed to new values and traditions in America.
In the short story “Seventeen Syllables”, Hisaye Yamamoto addresses a powerful theme of miscommunication that emerges through verbal and non-verbal language that are presented throughout the short story from character development to dialogue and description. With cultural playing a huge impact on Yamamoto’s writing, we see patriarchal repression, role of Japanese women in society, and clashes in generation gaps that lead to this theme of miscommunication.
Miscommunications are also present in society between spouses. Through story-telling and character development we begin to see a conflict emerge in this short story between the father and mother. As part of the Japanese norm, women are supposed to be in compliance with their husbands. Work side by side with their husbands, do the chores of a typical household mother, and most importantly never really seek independence. Yamamoto expresses this idea of role of women in societywith Tome’s hobby of writing haikus for a newspaper. She becomes so involved and in love with her culture that she forgets her position of being a mother and household woman in the eyes of her daughter and husband.
Page 2 Nonverbal Communication and Short Story Essay
“So Rosie and her father lived for awhilte with two women,her mother and Ume Hananzono. Her mother kept house, cooked, washed, and, along with her husband…did her ample share of picking tomatoes out in the sweltering fields and boxing them in tidy stratr in the cool packing shed. Ume Hanazono, who came to life after the dinner dishes were done, was an earnest, muttering stranger who often negelected speaken when spoke to and stayed busy at the parlor table as alate as midnight scribbling with pencil on scratch paper or carefully copying character on good paper with her fat, pale green parker.”
Tome becomes too involved in writing her haikus that she is unable to pick up the non-verbal cues that her husband is giving to her to let her know that he disapproves . This builds some tension and miscommunication arises through non-verbal interactions. The father is slowly getting very irritated and Tome continues to writse and not pick up on the anger that is building. Through the haikus which symbolizes freedom for her, the Japanese traditions seem to be threatened in the father’s eyes.
The “rudeness” of what the mother is doing, is angering the father. By writing haikus, it is slowly disrupting the relationship of the parents. “..and if a group of friends come over, it was bound to contain someone who was also writing haiku, and the small assemblage would split in two, her father entertaining the non-literary members and her mother comparing exstatitc notes with the visiting poet” (2). At the Hayano’s house, Rosie’s father comes up to her and says that they are leaving after a little bit with an irritation in his voice. Rosie doesn’t realize why until she sees her mother and Mr. Hayano talking. Rosie’s mother gets very flustered when she realizes that her husband had gone and tells her husband that she forgot what time it was because she got wrapped up with her haikus and “He just grunted”(2).
Again with her non-understand verbal communication with her husband shows him that she doesn’t really understand and care, and she also is unable to pick up on his anger with his non-verbal cues. This miscommunication between them just builds. Tome tries to seek for intellectual stimulation and challenges herself in the process of composing haikus. Haikus allow her to transform from a voiceless, submissive wife into a true woman who understands her culture to some extent. Mr.Hayashi is threatened with Tome’s sudden discussions with males about haikus. “The new interest had some repercussions on the household routine…Now if her father wanted to play cards, he had to resort to solitaire and if a group of friends came over, it was bound to contain someone who was also writing haiku, and the small assemblage would be split into two, her father entertaining the non-literary members and her mother comparing ecstatic notes with the visiting poet”(2).
This separation that is caused by haikus is slowly driving the father mad. As his character develops, which isn’t a lot, you realize that he is a very shy and quiet man. He only speaks when necessary it seems and is to himself so only non-verbal cues seem to hint at his anger. But Tome’s inability to read it, leads to a climax that could have been avoided if communication was present. In the climax of the literature, Rosie’s mother wins a painting as a prize for her amazing haiku work. When she accepts, she says, “It is I who should make some sign of my humble thanks for being permitted to contribute”. She acknowledges here that it isn’t normal for a Japanese women to be writing haikus and publishing them. Again Yamomoto uses dialogue to indicate the ignorance from Rosie’s mother to her husband when asked about the tomatoes. She says she will get to it when her husband is waiting for her. She continues on to talk to the editor of the newspaper.
This non-verbal miscommunication that is seen like the mother doesn’t care to the father, and everything is okay to the mother, is evident when the climax is reached. The father goes in and comes out with the painting and burns it up. The miscommunication built up so slowly but the realization hit Tome so fast as soon as he burnt up the painting. The tension created by Tome’s stepping out of her traditional Japanese role and entering the literary world is evident with the miscommunications between her husband and her. On one hand,
Yamomoto depicts the cultural and mental barrier that haiku presents to Tome, her husband, and her daughter; on the other hand, the short story describes the proceeding destruction of a woman who aspires to be independent. Throughout the whole novel, haiku is symbolized the deeper metaphor for separation. The miscommunication that is present is portrayed with the knowledge of culture because again verbal communication is very little and a lot of it is present through non verbal interactions. And so the burning of the painting was Tom’s first real realization that her husband dislikes her and her haikus. She can’t do anything about it because again in the Japanese culture, male play a dominant role in their households.
The miscommunications that are presented in this short story portray many of the immigrant families and their new culture shifts. The generational clash that is presented in the beginning of the story with Rosie’s decision of yes and no comes about at the end again when Tome asks her to promise to never get married- “promise me you will never marry”(5).This indecision is a portrayal of Rosie’s acceptance or reection of the traditional Japanese norms.
A reflection of this is evident in the scene when the parents are quarreling on their back from Mr./Mrs.Hayanos. She sees, “three contorted, bleeding bodies, one of them hers”(3). Rosie hates the idea that her mother was begging and her father was denying it that she wanted the car to crash. She feels that even with acceptance or rejection with her mother will still leave her as the victim. Yamomoto leaves the end with a tension not knowing whether or no Rosie said “yes” or “no”. The ending of this story portrays the cultural clash and miscommunication from it. Both Rosie and Tome are prisoners of a solitary confinement. Tome because she is rejected by her family and Rosie with the inability of making a decision. Tome’s inability to communicate with her family about her interest in haikus soon led to compression and confinement.See More on Family, Miscommunication