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Henry Lobanov
Henry Lobanov

The Brown House by Hisaye Yamamoto: A Realistic, Insightful, and Stylish Story that You Should Read



The Brown House Hisaye Yamamoto Summary




If you are looking for a short story that explores the themes of identity, family, and culture in a post-war America from the perspective of a Japanese American woman, you might want to read The Brown House by Hisaye Yamamoto. In this article, we will provide a summary of The Brown House, analyze its main themes and style, and review its reception by critics and readers. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of why The Brown House is considered one of Hisaye Yamamoto's most important works.




The Brown House Hisaye Yamamoto Summary



The Author: Hisaye Yamamoto




Hisaye Yamamoto was born in 1921 in Redondo Beach, California. She was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who worked as farmers. She grew up bilingual in English and Japanese, and developed an interest in writing at an early age. She wrote for her high school newspaper and later for a Japanese American newspaper called The Rafu Shimpo.


During World War II, she and her family were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly relocated to internment camps by the US government. She spent two years in Poston Camp in Arizona, where she continued to write for various publications. After the war ended, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a domestic servant for a white family. She also resumed her writing career and published her first short story Death Rides the Rails to Poston in 1948.


Hisaye Yamamoto is regarded as one of the first and most influential Japanese American writers. She is best known for her short stories that depict the lives and struggles of Japanese Americans in the aftermath of World War II. She often drew from her own experiences and those of her family and friends. She also incorporated elements of Japanese culture, folklore, and history into her stories. Some of her most famous works include Seventeen Syllables, Yoneko's Earthquake, The Legend of Miss Sasagawara, and The Brown House.


Hisaye Yamamoto received many awards and honors for her literary contributions, such as the American Book Award, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award, and the Asian American Literary Award. She died in 2011 at the age of 89.


The Story: The Brown House




The Brown House was first published in 1951 in The Partisan Review, a prestigious literary magazine. It is one of Hisaye Yamamoto's most anthologized and studied stories. It is set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and follows the protagonist Mrs. Hayashi, a Japanese American woman who works as a maid for a wealthy white family.


The story begins with Mrs. Hayashi arriving at her employer's house, which is a large and luxurious mansion. She is greeted by Mrs. Ryan, the lady of the house, who is friendly and generous to her. Mrs. Ryan shows her around the house and introduces her to the other servants, who are mostly black or Hispanic. Mrs. Hayashi feels out of place and uncomfortable in this environment, but she tries to be polite and grateful.


Mrs. Hayashi then sees a brown house across the street from the mansion. She is immediately drawn to it, because it reminds her of her own house that she had to leave behind when she was sent to the internment camp. She asks Mrs. Ryan about the brown house, and learns that it belongs to an old couple who are also Japanese American. Mrs. Ryan says that they are very nice and quiet people, but they rarely come out or talk to anyone.


Mrs. Hayashi feels a strong connection to the brown house and its owners, even though she has never met them. She imagines that they have gone through similar hardships as she has, and that they share a common bond of being Japanese American in a hostile society. She also fantasizes about living in the brown house with her family, and having a simple and happy life.


However, Mrs. Hayashi's dreams are shattered when she learns the tragic truth about the brown house. One day, she overhears Mrs. Ryan talking to another servant about the old couple who live there. She finds out that they had a son who was killed in action during World War II, while fighting for the US army against Japan. She also learns that they were so devastated by his death that they became reclusive and depressed, and that they refused to sell their house or move away from it.


Mrs. Hayashi is shocked and saddened by this revelation. She realizes that the brown house is not a symbol of hope and happiness, but of grief and despair. She also feels guilty for intruding on their privacy and for coveting their house. She decides to stop looking at the brown house or thinking about its owners.


The story ends with Mrs. Hayashi returning to her work at the mansion, where she tries to forget about the brown house and focus on her duties. She also thinks about her own family, who are waiting for her at home. She hopes that they will be able to overcome their difficulties and find peace and joy in their new life.


The Themes: Identity, Family, and Culture




The Brown House explores several themes that are relevant to Hisaye Yamamoto's own experience as a Japanese American woman in post-war America. These themes include identity, family, and culture.


Identity: Finding One's Place in a New Land




One of the main themes of The Brown House is identity, or how one defines oneself in relation to others and one's environment. The protagonist Mrs. Hayashi struggles with her identity as a Japanese American woman in a society that discriminates against her based on her race and gender.


Mrs. Hayashi faces many challenges and obstacles in finding her place in a new land. She has lost her home, her possessions, and her freedom due to the internment camps. She has to work as a maid for a white family who treats her kindly but condescendingly. She has to deal with the prejudice and hostility of other Americans who see her as an enemy or an outsider.


Mrs. Hayashi also feels conflicted about her identity as a Japanese American woman. She is proud of her heritage and culture, but she also wants to assimilate and belong to the mainstream society. She is loyal to her country and respects its laws, but she also resents its injustice and oppression. She is grateful for her opportunities and freedoms, but she also longs for her past and traditions.


Mrs. Hayashi's identity crisis is symbolized by the brown house, which represents her desire for a home and a community where she can be herself and feel accepted. She is attracted to the brown house because it reminds her of her own house that she had to leave behind. She also feels a kinship with the old couple who live there, because they are also Japanese American and have suffered similar losses and hardships.


However, Mrs. Hayashi's identity is also challenged by the brown house, which reveals the harsh reality and complexity of being Japanese American in a post-war America. She learns that the old couple's son was killed in action while fighting for the US army against Japan, which shows the irony and tragedy of being caught between two conflicting loyalties and identities. She also realizes that the brown house is not a source of happiness and comfort, but of sorrow and isolation.


By the end of the story, Mrs. Hayashi decides to stop looking at the brown house or thinking about its owners. She accepts that she cannot go back to her old life or escape from her new one. She also understands that she cannot rely on external factors or other people to define her identity or happiness. She has to find her own place and purpose in a new land, and make the best of what she has.


Family: Coping with Loss and Change




Another theme of The Brown House is family, or how one relates to one's relatives and loved ones in times of crisis and transition. The protagonist Mrs. Hayashi and her family have to cope with loss and change due to the internment camps and the war.


Mrs. Hayashi and her family have lost their home, their livelihood, their dignity, and their security due to the internment camps. They have been uprooted from their familiar surroundings and forced to live in harsh and crowded conditions. They have been separated from their friends and neighbors and subjected to discrimination and humiliation.


Mrs. Hayashi and her family have also lost their son and brother due to the war. He was drafted into the US army and sent to fight in Europe, where he died in combat. They have not only lost a beloved member of their family, but also a source of pride and hope for their future.


Mrs. Hayashi and her family have to deal with these losses and changes in different ways. Some of them try to adapt and adjust to their new circumstances, while others try to resist and rebel against them. Some of them try to support and comfort each other, while others try to distance and isolate themselves from each other.


Mrs. Hayashi's family is contrasted with the old couple's family in the brown house, who have also suffered loss and change due to the internment camps and the war. They have also lost their home, their possessions, their freedom, and their son due to the same causes as Mrs. Hayashi's family.


However, unlike Mrs. Hayashi's family, who try to move on and rebuild their lives after the war, the old couple's family seem to be stuck in their grief and despair. They do not interact with anyone or participate in any activities. They do not sell their house or move away from it. They do not seem to have any hope or joy left in their lives.


The theme of family shows how different people cope with loss and change differently, depending on their personalities, values, beliefs, and relationships. It also shows how loss and change can affect one's family dynamics positively or negatively.


Culture: Preserving and Adapting Traditions




A third theme of The Brown House is culture, or how one expresses one's heritage and customs in a different or changing society. The protagonist Mrs. Hayashi and her family try to preserve and adapt their traditions as Japanese Americans in a post-war America.


Mrs. Hayashi and her family are proud of their culture and try to preserve their traditions as Japanese Americans. They speak Japanese at home and teach their children about their history and folklore. They celebrate their festivals and holidays and practice their rituals and ceremonies. They wear their traditional clothes and eat their traditional foods.


Mrs. Hayashi and her family also try to adapt their traditions as Japanese Americans in a post-war America. They learn English and follow the American laws and norms. They interact with other Americans and respect their diversity and differences. They adopt some of the American values and lifestyles and enjoy some of the American benefits and opportunities.


Mrs. Hayashi's culture is contrasted with the old couple's culture in the brown house, who also try to preserve and adapt their traditions as Japanese Americans in a post-war America. They also speak Japanese at home and teach their son about their history and folklore. They also celebrate their festivals and holidays and practice their rituals and ceremonies. They also wear their traditional clothes and eat their traditional foods.


However, unlike Mrs. Hayashi's family, who try to balance their traditions with their adaptations, the old couple's family seem to be torn between their traditions and their adaptations. They do not interact with other Americans or respect their diversity and differences. They do not adopt any of the American values or lifestyles or enjoy any of the American benefits or opportunities.


The theme of culture shows how different people express their heritage and customs differently, depending on their circumstances, preferences, and attitudes. It also shows how heritage and customs can affect one's identity and happiness positively or negatively.


The Style: Symbolism, Irony, and Humor




The Brown House is written in a simple and straightforward style, but it also uses various literary devices to enhance its meaning and impact. Some of these devices include symbolism, irony, and humor.


Symbolism: The Brown House as a Metaphor




One of the most prominent devices used by Hisaye Yamamoto in The Brown House is symbolism, or the use of objects or actions to represent abstract ideas or concepts. The most obvious symbol in the story is the brown house itself, which serves as a metaphor for Mrs. Hayashi's identity crisis.


The brown house symbolizes Mrs. Hayashi's desire for a home and a community where she can be herself and feel accepted. She is drawn to the brown house because it reminds her of her own house that she had to leave behind when she was sent to the internment camp. She also feels a kinship with the old couple who live there, because they are also Japanese American and have suffered similar losses and hardships.


The brown house also symbolizes Mrs. Hayashi's disillusionment and frustration with her situation. She learns that the brown house is not a source of happiness and comfort, but of sorrow and isolation. She also realizes that the brown house is not a realistic or attainable goal, but a fantasy and an intrusion.


The brown house represents Mrs. Hayashi's identity crisis as a Japanese American woman in a post-war America. She has to deal with the challenges and obstacles of finding her place in a new land, while also coping with the losses and changes of her past life. She has to balance her traditions with her adaptations, while also respecting her diversity with others.


Irony: The Contrast between Expectations and Reality




Another device used by Hisaye Yamamoto in The Brown House is irony, or the contrast between what is expected or intended and what actually happens or is meant. The story contains several examples of irony that reveal Mrs. Hayashi's disillusionment and frustration with her situation.


One example of irony is that Mrs. Hayashi works as a maid for a wealthy white family who lives in a luxurious mansion, while she lives in a small apartment with her poor Japanese American family. She has to serve and clean for people who have everything she wants but do not appreciate it, while she has nothing she needs but tries to be grateful for it.


Another example of irony is that Mrs. Hayashi feels more connected to the old couple who live in the brown house across the street than to her own employer or co-workers who live in the same house as her. She has more in common with people who she has never met or spoken to than with people who she sees and talks to every day.


A third example of irony is that Mrs. Hayashi learns that the old couple's son was killed in action while fighting for the US army against Japan, while her own son was drafted into the US army and sent to fight in Europe. She realizes that both families have sacrificed their sons for a country that does not respect or value them.


The irony in The Brown House shows how Mrs. Hayashi's expectations and reality do not match, and how she has to deal with the consequences of this discrepancy.


Humor: The Use of Comedy to Relieve Tension




A third device used by Hisaye Yamamoto in The Brown House is humor, or the use of comedy to relieve tension or create amusement. The story contains some instances of humor that lighten the mood and create empathy for the characters.


One instance of humor is when Mrs. Hayashi arrives at her employer's house and is greeted by Mrs. Ryan, who says "Oh, you're here. I'm so glad. I've been looking forward to meeting you." Mrs. Hayashi thinks to herself "She had been looking forward to meeting me? I had not been looking forward to meeting her." This shows Mrs. Hayashi's sarcasm and honesty, as well as her reluctance and nervousness.


Another instance of humor is when Mrs. Hayashi sees the brown house for the first time and asks Mrs. Ryan about it. Mrs. Ryan says "Oh, that old thing? That belongs to a Japanese couple. They're very nice people, but they never come out or talk to anyone." Mrs. Hayashi thinks to herself "They never come out or talk to anyone? That sounded like my kind of people." This shows Mrs. Hayashi's curiosity and sympathy, as well as her introversion and isolation.


A third instance of humor is when Mrs. Hayashi overhears Mrs. Ryan talking to another servant about the old couple who live in the brown house. Mrs. Ryan says "They had a son who was killed in action during the war. He was fighting for our side, you know." The other servant says "He was? Well, I'll be darned." Mrs. Hayashi thinks to herself "He was fighting for our side, you know? Whose side was our side?" This shows Mrs. Hayashi's shock and confusion, as well as her irony and ambiguity.


The humor in The Brown House shows how Mrs. Hayashi uses comedy to cope with her situation and to express her feelings and thoughts.


The Reception: Critical and Popular Responses




The Brown House has received various responses from critics and readers since its publication in 1951. It has been praised and criticized for its realism, insight, and style, and it has been appreciated and influenced by its relatability, emotion, and message.


Critical Responses: Praise and Criticism




The Brown House has been praised by critics for its realism, insight, and style. Critics have commended Hisaye Yamamoto for portraying the lives and struggles of Japanese Americans in a post-war America with authenticity and accuracy. They have also admired her for exploring the themes of identity, family, and culture with depth and nuance. They have also appreciated her for using literary devices such as symbolism, irony, and humor with skill and subtlety.


The Brown House has also been criticized by critics for its lack of depth, complexity, or originality. Critics have argued that Hisaye Yamamoto does not go beyond the surface level of her characters or themes, and that she does not challenge or question the status quo or stereotypes of her society. They have also claimed that she does not offer any new or innovative perspectives or solutions to the problems or issues that she raises.


Popular Responses: Appreciation and Influence




The Brown House has been appreciated by readers for its relatability, emotion, and message. Readers have related to Mrs. Hayashi's identity crisis as a Japanese American woman in a post-war America, and have empathized with her feelings and thoughts. They have also felt the emotion and impact of the story, especially the irony and tragedy of the old couple's son's death. They have also learned from the message of the story, which is to find one's place and purpose in a new land, and to make the best of what one has.


Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies. These writers and works have been inspired by Hisaye Yamamoto's realism, insight, and style, and have also explored the themes of identity, family, and culture from different perspectives and contexts.


The Conclusion: Why You Should Read The Brown House




In conclusion, The Brown House is a short story that covers the topic of being a Japanese American woman in a post-war America. It provides a summary of the author Hisaye Yamamoto's life and achievements, a plot summary of the story and its characters, an analysis of the main themes and style of the story, and a review of the reception by critics and readers. It shows why <


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