Coming of Age
Hana’s decision to leave her family behind illustrates her desire to act and be treated as an adult. She takes responsibility for the consequences of her decision to leave Japan and marry Taro. Though her and Taro’s families played a role in arranging the marriage, Hana recognizes that it was her idea to use the marriage as a way of escaping home. Her sickness and regret during the journey illustrates her awareness that life may have been easier and safer when she did not have to take responsibility for her actions. ‘‘It was she who had first planted in her uncle’s mind the thought that she would make a good wife for Taro Takeda,’’ she reflects regretfully at the beginning of the story. She knows she cannot blame her uncle or her mother for the situation she now finds herself in because it was she who set the plan into motion. At the end of the story, she is better prepared to take responsibility for her actions, remarking that ‘‘this is the man I came to marry.’’ She has knowingly taken a risk and now must face her impending marriage alone, as an adult.
Role of Women
Hana both challenges and accepts the ideals of femininity that she was raised with. As much as she does not want to marry a Japanese man and live a conventional life, she is also reluctant to break with the social expectations of women altogether. She does not defy her mother by pursuing a career as a teacher, though she clearly longs to. Becoming a picture bride for a Japanese man in the United States seems to offer a compromise between the strict expectations of the culture in which she was raised and a possibility for greater independence. Hana finds a way to avoid the examples of her three sisters, who have all agreed to ‘‘proper, arranged and loveless marriages.’’ Hana’s marriage might also be ‘‘proper, arranged and loveless,’’ but because it will be in the United States, away from the families and culture of both herself and her husband, it promises at least a greater degree of flexibility. Moreover, Hana is choosing to enter this marriage. While Hana does not illustrate the adamant independence that an American heroine of her era might, she does show a realistic effort to balance the restrictions imposed by her gender with her desire for freedom. This negotiation process illustrates how feminism, a movement that promotes autonomy of women, works within a culture that emphasizes familial duty and conformity.
Immigration and Immigrants
Immigration, the process of moving to a new country, is always accompanied by emigration, the act of leaving an old one. By focusing on Hana before, during, and after her journey, ‘‘Tears of Autumn’’ shows how complex these processes can be. Hana’s excitement for a new life in America exists alongside the tears mentioned by the story’s title. The reference to fall, and thus the cycle of seasons, alludes to the fact that the cycle of regret for leaving and excitement at arriving will likely be one that will continue as she adjusts to life as an American immigrant. Though the story ends on the day of her arrival at her new home, it implies that Hana will return to the question of whether she has done the right thing by leaving Japan.
Scholars who study immigration use the terms ‘‘push’’ and ‘‘pull’’ factors as one way of describing motivations for immigration. What ‘‘pushes’’ Hana from Japan is clear: she does not want to become a Japanese wife. Life in her village offers only the certainty of ‘‘smothering strictures’’ and years of hard farming labor. Even if she were to move to a Japanese city, as two of her sisters have done, she would still be bound by tradition. What ‘‘pulls’’ Hana to the United States is less certain: she hopes that marrying a Japanese man away from Japan might offer greater freedom and prosperity. Like many immigrants to America, the act of immigration is a bittersweet one, offering a promise, but not necessarily the certainty, of a better life.
Asian American Life and Thought
‘‘Tears of Autumn’’ reflects on the history of the Asian American immigration experience. The picture bride phenomenon shows how Japanese Americans coped with a restrictive immigration policy and their struggle to put down roots in a new homeland, one that did not always welcome them kindly. Hana’s devotion to fulfilling her family’s ideals of propriety, despite her own desire for independence, also testifies to a key tension within Asian American culture. Hana comes from a culture in which the individual is not imagined as an independent being, but one who must fulfill the expectations of her family and community. Because American culture stresses individualism and independence, a conflict of identity occurs. Such self versus community conflicts occur for many immigrants, but Asian American immigrants have experienced them in a distinct way, intensified by the racial discrimination and exclusion they have faced in the United States. Hana’s ‘‘flight to America for what seemed a proper and respectable marriage’’ shows her effort to balance her identification with American values with her desire to maintain her Japanese cultural identity.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Yoshiko Uchida, Published by Gale Group, 2010