LIT 4386 British and American Literature
Yamamoto, "Seventeen Syllables" (1834)
POST #10 Group B
- To analyze relations between mothers and daughters
- To discuss the role of violence in shaping women's lives
The title emphasize language, both the formal use of language
in Haiku, and the breadown of language into its fundamental units of
sound - like the father's grunt or the narrator's vacillation between
"yes, yes" and 'no, no" and "oh." The social levels of Japanese culture,
too, are indicated by use of language.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
1. Hisaye Yamamoto, "Seventeen Syllables" (1834)
What form is this?
What is the setting?
Who are the main characters?
How would you describe the style of writing?
Begin your thinking on this story by examining the role of language. What is haiku and what role
does it play in the story? See p. 1834.
What does the mother expect from her daughter? How does she fail?
While Rosie does not want to work on her Japanese, she nonetheless has a sophisticated understanding
of language play. What other languages does she use and why?
Rosie's frustration with language is directly tied to three scenes in the story: when her mother reads her the first
haiku she has written, when Jesus kisses her and when her mother forces her to promise to never marry. Think
about what these three scenes have in common. What is Rosie's response to each?
Examine each scene carefully. What do we know about the mother's story? In what ways is she
representative of the woman writer we have been studying this semester? How does the conflict between Rosie and her
mother reflect the conflict between the Isei and the Nissei?
How are mother and daughter alike? In this case, consider Rosie's relationship with Jesus.
Examine the passage on p. 1839. How is Rosie's response to Jesus similar to her response to her mother?
Rosie's conflict with her mother and the tension between Rosie and Jesus occupies
Rosie's focus, but it is actually the greater conflict between Rosie's mother, Tome Hayashi, and her
father that shapes the story, as it shapes Rosie's life itself.
Examine the conflict between Rosie's mother and father. What happens to Tome Hayashi when she starts writing
haiku (see p. 1835)? How does she feel about it? How do you know?
How does this affect other members of the household?
What causes her father's anger at Hayano's house? How does Rosie react? (1837)
What causes her father's anger when Aunt Taka and Uncle Gimpachi arrive?
What is Rosie's mother's reaction to learning she has won the haiku contest? (1841)
How does Rosie's father react?
Why does Mr. Hayashi burn his wife's prize?
Examine the ending of the story when Rosie's mother tells her why she married her father. What does this story
have to do with Rosie?
Examine the line "But she knew she would be told now, that the telling would combine with all
the violence of the hot afternoon to level her life, her world to the very ground" (1842). Why
would this level her life? What great potential is alluded to here that could destroy her world?
How is telling this story an act of violence? How does it compare with her father's violence?
Examine the passage on 1842-43: Why does her mother insist that Rosie promise to
never marry? Why does Rosie think immediately of Jesus? Why does Rosie say "yes,
yes" and what does this mean? How does her mother understand "yes, yes"?
Why is her mother disgusted with Rosie and think her a fool?
In the end, a hand comforts Rosie. Whose hand? Why is it late? What might this signify for the
girl on the edge of womanhood?