The Buddha in the Attic is a novel that talks about Japanese picture brides moving from Japan to America in search for husbands as well as hoping for a better future. While in America the Japanese women encounters a lot of difficulties such as discrimination and language barrier among others. Socially, the Japanese are portrayed has having low social status in the United States. In most of the occasion, they are subjected to a lot of work as manual laborers. The novel touches on some objects that form part of the history of a people. The analysis of these objects is important since it establishes a foundation upon which some ideas are generated. Historical aspect of cultural objects it is important in understanding the past as well as the current situation of mankind. This novel is a clear example of a text that has discussed at length material culture and its significance in literacy work. This study analyses the historical significance of material culture and how it influences the literacy work today as well as the struggles that Japanese women passed through before becoming American citizens.
This novel makes good use of irony. This is depicted through the use of husband pictures. As the Japanese woman migrates from their original land to America they carried with them the picture of men whom they had hoped would be their husbands. Japanese women had hope of meeting good men who are handsome and financially stable. In fact, when they were in the boat some of them use to wonder would we like them? as well as asking if they could actually recognize their husbands once they reach America (p. 18). However, when they arrive in USA they find that the men were not attractive neither where they financially stable. These pictures are also used symbolically to show hope of good life that they had envisioned to have in America. In the novel it is revealed that the pictures were created by professional men who had already arrived in America to provide labor. These images benefited them since they were able to entice their Japanese women to migrate to America for marriage purposes. Historically, the husbands pictures capture the life of Japanese women from the generation of Otsukas family who made their way to America during the period between 1908 and 1942. They desired to get married to American husbands whom they learned about through an advertisement channel. Ironically, they found that the situation and their husbands were totally different from the one they received on the advertisement.
The art of latter writing was also largely used in the novel. The American men used the latters to seduce Japanese women to migrate to America in order to experience good life. The latter were written by the professionals men for the benefit of American old laborers men. The latter were also accompanied by beautiful picture of what American husbands looked like. The latter are used symbolically as the main medium of connection that brought different cultures together. Later on the Japanese women realizes that those whom they had high hopes in were actually old men. One of the ladies observed that when they arrived in America they found a crowd of men waiting for them and that the photographs that they were sent to were actually twenty years old. Otsuka notes that the images that accompanied the letters were symbolically used to send a message of hope. The Japaneses women hoped that they would find handsome and wealthy husbands. Historically, letters were used as a means of communication among people living if far different place (22).
The use of trunks has been used symbolically to show differences between the Japanese and American culture. The trunks were used previously by Japanese women to carry their clothing and other households. While in America the Japanese women are discriminated upon as a result they resolve to burn the items that they carried in the trunks. This makes the start of the melting point of the Japanese culture since they wanted to blend better with the American culture. The trunks were made in Japan as they were mostly used by Japanese travelers to keep their clothing as well as otherhouseholds (Otsuka 14). The trunks were made mostly by oldwomen and they were sold to everyone who needed them while their cost is not revealed in the novel. In America, Japanese women used other facilities within the homestead of their American husbands. At least, compared to their status back home they would sleep of soft beds as well as lived in well light houses. The American houses had better facilities which some of the Japanese ladies did not know how to use. They had to be given instruction on how to use some facilities such as sinks.
The English phrases books and thick rice papers that the women on carried their way to America are used symbolically to show language barrier. Historically,the Japaneses first learnt of the American Language during the time when some of them moved to America to provide labor in the early 19th century. According to Ron the English phrases books were made in America then send to Japanese to assist the Japanese women in understanding English language(55). Additionally, the first communication between the Japanese women and American men takes place through the latter. The language is used symbolically to show cultural difference between Americans and Japanese. The history of interaction of the American and the Japanese can be traced backed during the moment when Japanese migrated to America to look for better living especially during the construction of Port Harbor. Ironically, the Japanese women were ill prepared to blend into the American society. They did not know how to communicate in English. For instance one of them confess that they were simple girls who came from the country side in Japan thus, they were forced to take low duties such as scrubbing sinks and washing floor (p. 44). The other issue closely linked to the challenges of language is evident among the Japanese children as they struggled so hard in school to tray to speak fluently in English. They wanted to be associated with the American culture. This is because they hated how much they were looked upon simply because they did not know how to speak good English. At this point the Japanese language was slowly fading even in their own homes because their children had taken a new path of language.
Clothings is used as a material culture to enable the communication of the main themes in the novels. Historically, different clothing styles emerged between Americans and Japanese atthe point when Japanese migrated from Japan to America. While in Japan, the Japanese women were taught how to make clothes by their mothers. As one of the girls comments that they were young and wearing stylish cloths clothes some made by their parents. However, majority of them were from the village thus they were putting on old clothing with had patches. Additionally, the ladies were from poor families mostly their parents were fishermen. On other hand, the images of their husbands indicated decent men who were smartly dressed. The Japanese women carried trunks from where they loaded their clothings. Within the trunks the ladies had silk kimonos which are some of the highly valued clothes in Japanese culture. This kind of clothing was made by traders in Japan and they were mostly used during weeding occasions while cotton kimonos were put on a daily basis (Otsuka 16). Later on after the Japanese women had settle and even given birth in America,they realize the need to bleed with the Americans. On this case, they burnt their clothes which were stored within the trunks. This implies that they were destroying their culture. Consequently, their children also adjusted to the America way of dressing so that they could feel comfortable in school despite the high level of discrimination that they faced. The Japanese children rejected their heritage. This rejection of Japaneses culture forms the basis upon whichthey were assimilated into the American way of doing things.While in America, the Japanese women are forced to undertake different roles in life. First, they have to adjust to the harsh environment through working hard to get food for their families. For instance, they work on farms as laborers. Ironically, they were very successful. This is because most of them came from small islands in Japan thus they had to make used of every available piece of land. At this point their disparity in culture has been influenced by more factors rather than their clothing.
In conclusion the novel The Buddha in the Attic is an example of a good literature that uses material culture to communicate its themes. The struggles as well as disillusionment that the Japanese women went through are clearly communicated through the use of material culture symbolically as well as ironically. The novel also gives a historic analysis of material culture between American and the Japanese cultures. The main finding of this study is that cultural material exchange takes place slowly over time. It is however important to study material culture so that one can properly understand the way in which culture affect literacy work. People should always inculcate the values of their culture in their children when they are still young so that they do not reject their heritage when they came of age. Therefore writers should focus also on other cultures to help in building the knowledge on the significance of material culture on different literacy.
Otsuka, Julie. The Buddha in the Attic. Knopf Publishing Group, 2011. p. 32.
Ron, Charles. Julie Otsukas The Buddha in the Attic wins 2012 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. Washington Post Review, 3 October 2012, p. 5- 67.
Stephens, Alice. The Buddha in the Attic review. The Washington Independent Review of Books, 30 August 2011.p. 10.
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