In “The Eskimo Connection” both Alden and Emiko are victims of loneliness, although in different ways. Emiko’s husband is dead, and she describes herself in terms of what she has lost: her husband and her poetry. As “an aging Nisei widow in Los Angeles with several children, three still at home, whose main avocation was not writing poetry but babysitting grandchildren,” Emiko cannot imagine what she would have in common with a young Eskimo prisoner; but her isolation encourages her to accept Alden’s offer to exchange letters anyway. Besides her family, Emiko appears to have connections with very few people. She mentions a friend from childhood and a neighbor who was once sent to prison, but that is all, until she begins her correspondence with Alden. The conversations in the story are primarily the written ones with Alden, and her relationships with others are only briefly paraphrased.
Alden does not profess any loneliness, but his initial reaching out to Emiko through a letter indicates his desire to connect with someone in a way that might not be possible in prison. His loneliness is seen through his letters, as he reports that he works fervently on his Bible studies and his writing, filling the long days that face him as a prisoner in the Midwest. Although a short story that Alden has written and sent to Emiko indicates that he is probably not in good stead with his family, he is nonetheless separated from them by thousands of miles and prison walls. Alden’s letters finally stop when he is transferred to Alaska, where he is closer to his family and is given the opportunity to attend community college classes, possibly mitigating the original sense of isolation that spurred his first letter to Emiko. Unfortunately, though, not much has changed for Emiko when the letters stop, and she ends the story on the same lonely note with which she began it.
Family and Family Life
The images of family and family life in the story are varied, but all are affected by the stresses of modern life. Emiko is the head of a family that includes three generations: herself, her children, and her grandchildren. There do not appear to be any men around the family, and the only time she mentions her dead husband is when she wonders if they would have divorced, like so many people she knows, had he lived longer. Her children who are mentioned are daughters and seem to behave like young children, even though they are most likely adults or close to adulthood. She carries the main responsibility for the finances and struggles to “cope with the needs of her brood.”
Alden is part of a large family with seven children, which he attributes to “the Eskimo need for survival.” But a short story he writes and sends to Emiko makes her believe that he has killed his mother’s brother and raped and killed a female relative—hardly the image of a happy and close family. He is delighted, though, when he discovers that he will be transferred to a prison in Alaska.
Images of Men
The only men mentioned at any length in the story are Alden, Emiko’s neighbor, and her husband. None of the three is portrayed as particularly strong or successful: Alden is in prison, possibly for murder, and is taking “massive doses” of Thorazine for depression; Mils, Emiko’s husband, is dead and has left her with the job of heading a multigenerational family without much support (and she wonders about their prospects for divorce had he lived longer); her neighbor has been to prison twice for forgery and is so fragile that he cries when Emiko removes a splinter from his hand.
There is an undercurrent of violence in the story, beginning with the fact that Alden is in a federal penitentiary. Emiko does not know why he is there, but a particularly dark and bloody short story he has written gives her the idea that he has murdered two relatives. As well, Emiko reports being “pummeled by a dear friend” who did not appreciate Emiko’s response to her poem; and Emiko’s daughters are seen in a brief scene in which one drags the other around the house by her hair, “rebelling at last against her sister’s authoritarianism.”
Emiko also remembers seeing a television news report about five young people, who had kidnapped an heiress to express their “’disillusionment with the establishment,” being burned alive in their house after the police tried to take them into custody. She is horrified by the actions of the police and sympathetic to the young people, whom she sees as outcasts and desperate martyrs.
The story ends on a violent note, as well, when Alden is moved to the Seattle City Jail for his own protection after he reports witnessing a rape in the federal prison.
Yamamoto presents a wide array of cultures and shows how they relate and sometimes clash. This includes the relationship between Alden, who is Eskimo, and Emiko, who is Japanese American. They are different ages and come from different cultural backgrounds. Alden must deal with prison culture everyday, while Emiko struggles with the modern world of twentieth-century Los Angeles. In addition, Emiko, despite living in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II, cannot quite comprehend the limitations placed on Alden as a prisoner in the federal penitentiary.
Indeed, the modern world is a cause of stress in the story, as it pushes against more traditional cultures. Alden’s short story presents visions of a traditional walrus hunt alongside the image of a murder committed with a Remington magnum rifle. Alden’s newly found Christianity is used to decry the destruction of his ancestors’ land and, as well, his academic and intellectual excursions into his religion are in stark contrast to the rapes and other degradations of his prison environment.
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.