The Legend of Miss Sasagawara by Hisaye Yamamoto is a story that deals with the themes of class, ethnicity, patriarchy, and the idea of individual agency This story takes place in a Japanese relocation camp. Narrated by a young Japanese-American girl, the story provides a broad portrait of one of the inmates at the camp, the daughter of a Buddhist priest, a woman named Miss Sasagawara, who develops a reputation for acting insane. A poem written by Miss Sasagawara, incorporated in the text towards the end of the story brings to light the keen sense of self-awareness that Sasagawara had all this while and how she well understood and keenly felt the repression inflicted upon her by the patriarchial society, of which her Buddhist father was a willing participant. The story confronts the intersection of ethnic and patriarchal oppression through the experiences of Miss Sasagawara.
The Legend of Miss Sasagawara | Summary and Analysis
“The legend,” is narrated by a young woman named Kiku. Kiku and Miss Sasagawara are both inmates at Poston, Arizona, one of the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. Sasagawara a ballet dancer, transferred to Poston from another camp with her father. At Poston, she becomes a general spectacle. She is later committed to an asylum because she relapses. Kiki comes across Miss Sasagawara’s poem, which describes the agony of someone living in proximity to a spiritual man oblivious to human emotions. Reverend Sasagawara, Kiku describes him as wearing –
“perpetually an air of bemusement, never talking directly to a person, as though, being what he was, he could not stop for an instant his meditation on the higher life.”
A devout Buddhist minister, Rev Sasagawara more often than not seemed wandering and lost. Sasagawara never came to the mess hall herself, but her father Rev. Sasagawara ate at the tables reserved for the occupants. After each meal, he would carry away a plate of food. Nor did she ever willingly use the shower room in the entire camp. “Madwoman,” is the name hence attributed to her.
When Kiku and Elsie encounter Miss Sasagawara who was intent on peeling a grapefruit, that her father had brought to her probably, Elsie calls out for her. Although at first Miss Sasagawara is unresponsive, her longing for human connection is very apparent. She looked up and stared, and without much recognition, she just looked up and stared. Miss Sasagawara in contradiction to the very so popular rumors about her, is eager to know someone and to be recognized rather than being a spectacle. The shock and surprise stood alive in them facing the expended friendliness. But Elsi is offended and considers the friendliness as unprofitable. Many were still not accepting of the new changed person she became. Some never did get used to Miss Sasargawa as a friendly being. She was quite the most talked about topic amongst people.
Elsie and Kiku tried one day of working in the mess hall. For them getting a job in the hospital was much better than working in the mess hall or with the garbage trucks. Kiku became a relief receptionist at the hospital’s front desk. And it was on one of the midnight-to-morning shifts that he spoke to Miss Sasagawara. She raises the statement of having appendicitis. Under Dr. Moritomo’s observation, it became evident that it was not appendicitis. Miss Sasagawara came back to the hospital a month later. It was now Elise on duty, and she reported Miss Sasagawara running away from the hospital.
Miss Sasagawara is subjected to social alienation when her outer appearance was taken into more consideration than her behavior. She is mainly portrayed as a “decorative ingredient.” The unnerving events in the public’s eyes and the norms are very evidently portrayed. Miss Sasagawara is not someone who is lost in tranquillity or anti-social, but she was misjudged by the passing of poisons from person to person. Beneath her distant empty aura, there lies a soul craving for human connection. It is not her actions, but the way others view her made her “unusual,” and not conform to the norm. And eventually, these are the strings of rumors and gossip that evaluated her as a person. But her actions are justifiable, as the most unbearable feature of the camp is the total lack of privacy. In this light, her decision of dining and showering alone is valid. Miss Sasagawara’s behavior and illness are not unusual but rather realistic responses to the trauma she got dumped with. The people relied on public pressure rather than actuality.
The effect of such reliance on misinterpretations, and gossip affected Miss Sasawaraga that who feels so much like a criminal and the need to ensure youngsters that she won’t hurt anyone. Another important fact is the insensitivity towards Miss Sasawaraga by her father, Reverend Sasawaraga parallels the government’s callousness towards their citizens. In turning to religious absolutes, he eventually blocked out his daughter’s emotional needs. Miss Sasagawara is subject to the mechanisms of society and faces persecution by the government. She is helpless against obstacles.
The Legend of Miss Sasagawara | Narrative and Themes
“The Legend of Miss Sasawaraga,” is a narrative tragedy. The story identifies Miss Sasagawara’s sufferings, her yearning to be identified beneath her so-created appearance by the public based on prejudiced norms. The internment camp is an actual allegory of the actual world. Her “madness,” is partly due to the emotional support from her father too. Her father was a very devout man, who dwelled in a world of madness. He was blind to both the notional and psychological suffering of his daughter. Miss Sasagawara was the talk of the town, her story being laced with rumor and gossip. She faced rejection and refusal from everyone. Yamamoto draws a parallel between the treatment of Asian Americans and the treatment of Miss Sasagawara in the internment camp.
The text employs light on how prejudiced opinions are formed. Yamamoto recalls the anguish of camp life. Political allusions cannot be avoided that lay beneath and between the lines and are eventful with a pessimistic tone.
About the author | Hisaye Yamamoto
Hisaye Yamamoto, an American author, her works confront issues of the Japanese immigrant experience in America and the disconnect between the first and second generation. She was one of the first Japanese-American writers to gain national recognition after the war when anti-Japanese sentiment was still rampant. Her writings were often layered in metaphor, imagery, and irony, but never wordy or given digression. Her writings pay homage to her Japanese heritage. The majority of her themes include; disconnection between first and second-generation immigrants, repression of women in Japanese and American societies, ambiguous interactions between ethnic communities in America, etc.