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
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
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
--. "A MELUS Interview: Hisaye Yamamoto." MELUS 14.1
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,
Yogi, Stan. "Legacies Revealed: Uncovering Buried Plots in the
Stories of Hisaye Yamamoto." Studies in American Fiction 17.2
--. "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.