Another mother with a newly developed passion for “inventing” is Tome Hayashi, the Japanese born woman who now lives in a farming community outside Los Angeles with her Japanese born husband and their teen-age Japanese-American daughter, Rosie, where, for a living, they pick tomatoes for a commercial grower. This mother, however, is not bent on inventing gadgets but rather on writing haiku.
So Rosie and her father lived for a while with two women, her mother
and Ume Hanazono. Her mother (Tome Hayashi by name) kept house,
cooked, washed, and, along with her husband and the Carrascos, the
Mexican family hired for the harvest, did her ample share of picking
tomatoes out in the sweltering fields and boxing them in tidy strata in
the cool packing shed. Ume Hanazono, who came to life after the
dinner dishes were done, was an earnest, muttering stranger who often
neglected speaking when spoken to and stayed busy at the parlor table
as late as midnight scribbling with pencil on scratch paper or carefully
copying characters on good paper with her fat, pale green Parker. (17)
But, the first line of this quote and two lines on this same page in the story fore- shadow the life span of this woman’s newly found voice. “So Rosie and her father lived for a while. . .” “The new interest had some repercussions on the household routine.” “But Ume Hanazono’s life span, even for a poet’s, was very brief ---perhaps three months at most (18).” It is the all too familiar story of a woman trying to liberate herself from her cultural bondage. While high school students may read this story today and think that women no longer experience this kind of resistance to their autonomy, it would be illuminating for them to look into women’s rights in the world in the present.
In this story the woman who is a wife and mother is developing an identity outside of both of these roles. There are signals all along the way that her husband in discontented with this second identity. As Ume Hanazono comes more and more to life, the husband becomes gradually more and more frustrated, jealous, threatened and angry. An interesting question to raise is, could she have given him more attention, recognizing that he was growing more and more frustrated? Or are the circumstances surrounding her marriage that we learn near the end of the story simply too much for her. It would be interesting to look at the rather horrifying scene in which the husband runs into the house and seems to throw out the magazine editor of haiku who has brought an award to Rosie’s mother. He then takes the award, a delicately framed painting, and chops it up and burns it. This scene is followed by the poignant conversation between Rosie and her mother, culminating in this desperate plea. “Suddenly, her mother knelt on the floor and took her by the wrists. ‘Rosie,’ she said urgently, ‘Promise me you will never marry (19).’”
Some students may stick up for the husband, defending his reaction given his cultural mindset. This would give the teacher an opportunity to look with the students at the Japanese culture on the topic of women’s roles. This story was written in l949, although the role of women in the household may not have changed very much.
“Seventeen Syllables” also lends itself to an essay discussing whether it has the basic elements of good literature which is one of the lesson plans in this unit. Because this requirement to recognize good literature is one of the tasks on the CAPT, I try to make my students aware of it every time we read a story. I have developed with my students three criteria for determining whether a story is good literature: There must be a conflict that reaches some kind of resolution, not necessarily a positive resolution; a character must develop beyond what he/she is when we first meet him/her, and the story must contain some kind of universal theme or lesson for the reader.
Another CAPT question which often shows up in the Language Arts part of the test is what effect the characters have on one another. Clearly, there is much to say and write about the effect Rosie’s mother and her father have on one another.