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In “Seventeen Syllables”, written by Hisaye Yamamoto, and “Everyday Use”, written by Alice Walker, the relationship between the mother and the daughter is portrayed. In “Seventeen Syllables”, the protagonist, Rosie is an American born Japanese (Nisei) who does not understand well about the Japanese culture, whereas her Issei mother, Mrs. Hayashi was born and raised in Japan and married to America. Mrs. Hayashi loves writing haiku, a traditional Japanese poetry, to escape from the reality of her loveless marriage.
In “Everyday Use”, Mama is a traditional Afro-American woman, who receives little education and raised her two daughters by doing ‘man’s job’. Dee instead influenced by the Black Power Movement, tried to trace back her African root. She learned the African culture and changed her name into Wangero. This essay hopes to explore the similarities and differences of the mother-daughter relationship depicted in these two short stories, which is Rosie and Mrs. Hayashi, and Dee and Mama respectively. To start with, one of the similarities is that there is alienation in the two pairs due to cultural differences.
In “Seventeen Syllables”, Rosie represents the American culture and Mrs. Hayashi represents the Japanese culture. Rosie was born and raised in America and English is her mother language; whereas her mother, Mrs. Hayashi ‘had even less English, no French’ as her mother tongue is Japanese. She came to America as a picture bride to deveop a loveless marriage with Rosie’s father and her Japanese culture is deep-rooted. She loves to write haiku, which Rosie fails to understand it. She thinks “English lay ready on the tongue but Japanese had to be searched for and examined. Due to their difference in cultural background, Rosie finds it difficult to communicate with her mother. She has to ‘pretended to understand the haiku thoroughly and appreciate it no end’ when her mother reads her the haiku she wrote. Therefore, she turns out communicating less with her mother and fakes her mother by “saying yes yes, even when one meant no, no. ” This can be seen when Mrs. Hayashi asks Rosie to comment on the haiku she writes, and Rosie replies in a perfunctory way. There is deception from Rosie to Mrs. Hayashi as well.
Why Does Dee Want The Quilts
Similarly, there is also alienation between the mother and the daughter, Mama and Dee in “Everyday Use” due to cultural differences. Mama represents a normal woman in the Afro-American culture; whereas Dee denies her original culture of an Afro- American and learns the African culture due to Black Power Movement. Mama, as a Black American, lives in the rural South of the States and receives little education only. Mama is strong and does quilting at home. Dee, on the other hand, adapts an African culture which she learns from books and her peers.
However, this African culture is vague and superficial. This can be seen when she changes her name from Dee to Wangero because she “couldn’t bear to be named after the people who oppress [her]”, but ‘Wangero’ in fact is a mispelt name of an African language. Due to their differences in cultural beliefs, they have different views and perspectives on things and heritages like quilts and churn. Mama thinks that according to tradition, churn and quilts are for everyday and practical use. But to Wangero, quilts are in fact dead object and should be appreciated as an art work.
Their different view on things lead to alienation between the mother and the daughter. Another similarity is that this inter-generational difference both leads to isolation and difficulty in understanding each other in the two stories. In “Seventeen Syllables”, Rosie, as an Americanized girl, lacks interest in learning and understanding haiku or Japanese culture as a whole. Even when she goes over to see the Hayano family, she and the four sisters discusses the new coat in English and lacks the Japanese manners which is deep-seeded in the Japanese culture.
This difference in lifestyle and habits cause her hard to communicate with her traditional Japanese mother. The conflict between Rosie and Mrs. Hayashi mirrors the conflicts between the Issei and Nisei. The Nisei generation, who knows “formal Japanese by fits and starts”, has totally no interest on the traditional Japanese culture. However, the Issei generation sticks to their original culture and even starts magazines to trace back their life in Japan. As a result, the two generations, the Issei, Mrs. Hayashi and the Nisei, Rosie find it difficult to understand each other.
It results in the isolation of the two generation. In “Everyday Use”, there is also isolation and oppression between the mother-daughter relationship of Mama and Dee. After Dee grows up and receives education, it makes her differ from the rest of the family who only stays in the sub-urban area and receives less or no education. She is exposed to the values of the new world with civil rights and equality, which Mama has totally no idea of what they are. Dee has greater visibility and zero tolerance for equality. Also, Dee has a sense of autonomy and individuality after receiving education.
These are the things that Mama has not got in touch with before. Therefore, it leads to them not understanding the action of each other. For example, Dee wants to use the churn top and quilts as artistic uses and she do not understand why they are “backward enough to put them to everyday use”. Mama however sees the churn top as a kind of heritage which has been used for generation. It is the most appropriated to use it practically. Their difference in interpretation and knowledge of civil rights make Dee isolated herself from Mama and the family.
It also leads to difficulty in understanding of another person’s acts. Although there are similarities regarding the mother-daughter relationship in the two set stories, there are also some differences in their relationship. In “Seventeen Syllables”, Rosie, the Nisei daughter falls victim to the mother’s experience. At that time, Rosie is struggling whether she should accept the love from Jesus or not. When Jesus kisses her, she “fell for the entirely victim to a helplessness delectable beyond speech”.
However, toward the end of the story, her mother reveals her past experience to Rosie. Although Rosie do not want to know the truth which “would combine with the other violence of the hot afternoon to level her life to the very ground”, Mrs. Hayashi still tells Rosie the story about her and her young lover. She asks Rosie to promise her not to get marry as well as she do not want her daughter to face the same destiny. Rosie is in the dilemma of whether to reject Jesus and follows her mother’s word, or still follows her heart to tell Jesus how she feels.
From this, we can see that the daughter falls victim to the mother’s past of whether starting a relationship or not. However, in “Everyday Use”, it is the mother, Mama who falls victim to the daughter, Dee’s experience instead. Dee, after receiving education, starts to use her knowledge to dominate the family. She gets in touch with others through schooling and education, which Maggie and Mama do not have the chance to do so. However, Mama actually thinks that these new ideas and knowledge that she has never known cause them fear and intimidation instead.
It is described by Mama that Dee “washed us in a river of make-believe and burned us with a lot of knowledge we didn’t necessarily need to know”. Mama even thinks that they are “trapped” underneath Dee’s voice when she told them the things she learned in school. Dee uses her intellect to intimidate others, such as greeting her mother with a language Mama do not speak. These knowledge has even posted a threat to the simple world Mama and Maggie is living and separated Dee from her family. This divisive power of education leads to her mother falls victim to Dee’s experience.
To conclude, there are similarities and differences in the mother-daughter relationship in “Seventeen Syllables” and “Everyday Use”. The two pairs, Mama and Dee, and Mrs. Hayashi and Rosie, are both alienated and lack of understanding of each other due to cultural and inter-generational differences. However, the victims in these two relationships are different. In “Seventeen Syllables”, the daughter struggles from the mother’s experiences; but in “Everyday Use”, it is the mother instead who struggles from the knowledge the daughter forces to her which she thinks is unnecessary and hard to understand.