‘‘Tears of Autumn’’ was published in 1987 but the story takes place more than a half a century earlier. When the story was published as the opening chapter of Uchida’s novel Picture Bride , Uchida inserted the dates 1917–1918 to identify the story’s exact historical setting. Because the story dramatizes the experiences that real people of this era had, it falls into the literary genre known as historical fiction.
Sometimes, writers of historical fiction focus on well-known historical events, such as wars, or on the life of a well-known figure, such as a queen or an artist. But ‘‘Tears of Autumn,’’ like many other works of historical fiction, focuses on a fictional character who represents what a reallife Japanese picture bride might have faced on her journey to the United States. The ‘‘event’’ of interest is not one that is read about in history books, but rather one that was experienced by many ordinary women who became immigrants and picture brides. As a woman living in the United States and writing in the 1980s, Uchida might have wanted to better understand why an independent person like Hana would have consented to such a marriage. Including details such as the style of Hana’s kimono, the kinds of food she eats, and the detention she faces on Angel Island, allows readers to experience this past vividly. Historical fiction allows writers to re-create the past based on the concerns of the present.
Point of View
The story of ‘‘Tears of Autumn’’ is told from the perspective of Hana. She is not the narrator, but no other character receives the kind of insights from the narrator that she does. Readers learn about why Hana is making the journey to the United States through a description of her memories and observations. Readers know some of her thoughts but not others, a point of view style known as ‘‘limited omniscience.’’ For example, readers do not know exactly what her mother, uncle, or brother-in-law think of the idea of arranging a marriage between Hana and Taro— they only know what Hana supposes they think based on her memories of what they have said or on her observations of their facial expressions. Because the story offers insights into exactly what Hana is thinking—including the hopes and doubts she has not shared with her family or anyone else—readers gain a more complex understanding of her motivations. She is not a simple, heroic character, but rather a complex one with deep and sometimes conflicting feelings.
Journeys work in ‘‘Tears of Autumn’’ to move the story from one point to the next. Hana journeys by boat from Japan to Angel Island, from Angel Island to San Francisco, and, after riding a streetcar, from San Francisco to Oakland. The story both opens and closes with her on the deck of a ship. Uchida uses this physical movement to suggest the personal journeys that Hana is also undergoing: from Japanese to Japanese American, from single woman to wife, and from child to adult.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Yoshiko Uchida, Published by Gale Group, 2010