Given that the bulk of Yamamoto’s story is about the letters written between Alden and Emiko, “The Eskimo Connection” is written almost as an epistle—a writing form that presents letters written to someone or written between two or more people. (According to one of the letters, Alden has paraphrased the biblical epistles of Paul). But the critical difference between a true epistle and “The Eskimo Connection” is the point of view. A true epistle allows for multiple points of view; that is, the letters of all of the characters are presented without the intrusion or interpretation of a narrator.
In contrast, in Yamamoto’s story, nearly all of Alden’s thoughts and words in his letters are told through Emiko’s eyes. Only twice are Alden’s own words actually presented somewhat in full: when Emiko includes a section of a letter Alden writes after he is transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary, remarking how beautiful the place is; and when Emiko shares a small portion of Alden’s short story. In addition, Emiko allows a few single words of Alden’s to pepper her story about their relationship; and at the end of the story, she includes two phrases Alden uses to describe homosexual activity at the prisons. Essentially, this is Emiko’s story, and she is the narrator, even though it is not written in a first-person point of view. The question arises, then, as to how reliable a narrator Emiko is. Because all of the information transmitted through the story comes from Emiko, it is colored by her opinions and experiences.
Use of Humor and Self-Deprecation
Yamamoto allows Emiko to be a character who can make fun of herself and uses humor to lighten an otherwise harsh situation. This is apparent immediately in the story when Emiko, a published poet, describes herself as ”an aging Nisei widow” who is now involved with caring for her grandchildren rather than with writing poetry. The story closes on a similar note, although by this time there is a tinge of sadness to the self-deprecation.
While she is not always light-hearted throughout the story, Emiko’s sense of humor is apparent in the present and in her memories: she refers to the artists she knew in the World War II JapaneseAmerican internment camp as being vulnerable “creative critters,” and she remembers being “pummeled by a dear friend whose poem she had made light of.” As well, the strict rules that govern visits to Alden’s prison are mocked when she reads that visitors must be careful of their attire and that such clothes as miniskirts and low-cut shirts are considered improper. The author writes, ”Well, she would have to bear that in mind. No bikinis, either, she supposed.”
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Hisaye Yamamoto – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.