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The Brown House In California that year the strawberries were marvelous. As large as teacups, they were so juicy and sweet that Mrs. Hattori, making her annual batch of jam, found she could cut down on the sugar considerably. "I suppose this is supposed to be the compensation," she said to her husband, whom she always politely called Mr. Hattori. "Some compensation!" Mr. Hattori answered. At that time they were still on the best of terms. It was only later, when the season ended as it had begun, with the market price for strawberries so low nobody bothered to pick them that they began quarreling for the first time in their life together. What provoked the first quarrel and all the rest was that Mr. Hattori, seeing no future in strawberries, began casting around for a way to make some quick cash. Word somehow came to him that there was in a neighboring town a certain house where fortunes were made overnight, and he hurried there at the first opportunity. It happened that Mrs. Hattori and all the little Hattoris, five of them, all boys and born about a year apart, were with himwhen he paid his first visit to the house. When he told them to wait in the car, saying he had a little business to transact inside and would return in a trice, he truly meant what he said. He intended only to give the place a brief inspection in order to familiarize himself with it. This was at two o'clock in the after noon, however, and when he finally made his way back to the car, the day was already so dim that he had to grope around a bit for the door handle. The house was a large but simple clapboard, recently painted brown and relieved with white window frames. It sat under several enormous eucalyptus trees in the foreground of a few acres of asparagus. To the rear of the house was a ram shackle barn whose spacious blue roof advertised in great yellow letters a ubiquitous brand of physic. Mrs. Hattori, peering toward the house with growing impatience, could not understand what was keeping her husband. She watched other cars either drive into the yard or park along the highway and she saw all sorts of people-white, yellow, brown, and black enter the house. Seeing very few people leave, she got the idea that her husband was attending a meeting or a party. So she was more curious than furious that first time when Mr. Hattori got around to returning to her and the children. To her rapid questions Mr. Hattori replied slowly, pensively: it was a gambling den run by a Chinese family under cover of asparagus, he said, and he had been winning at first, but his luck had suddenly turned, and that was why he had taken so long-he had been trying to win back his original stake at least. "How much did you lose?" Mrs. Hattori asked dully. "Twenty-five dollars," Mr. Hattori said. "Twenty-five dollars!" exclaimed Mrs. Hattori. "Oh, Mr. Hattori, what have you done?" At this, as though at a prearranged signal, the baby in her arms began wailing, and the four boys in the back seat began complaining of hunger. Mr. Hattori gritted his teeth and drove on. He told himself that this being assailed on all sides by bawling, whimpering, and murderous glances was no less than he deserved. Never again, he said to himself; he had learned his lesson. Nevertheless, his car, with his wife and children in it, was parked near the brown house again the following week. This was because he had dreamed a repulsive dream in which a fat white snake had uncoiled and slithered about and everyone knows that a white-snake dream is a sure omen of good luck in games of chance. Even Mrs. Hattori knew this. Besides, she felt a little guilty about having nagged him so bitterly about the twenty-five dollars. So Mr. Hattori 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49
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entered the brown house again on condition that he would return in a half-hour, surely enough time to test the white snake. When he failed to return after an hour, Mrs. Hattori sent Joe, the oldest boy, to the front door to inquire after his father. A Chinese man came to open the door of the grille, looked at Joe, said, "Sorry, no kids in here," and clacked it to. When Joe reported back to his mother, she sent him back again and this time a Chinese woman looked out and said, "What you want, boy?" When he asked for his father, she asked him to wait, then returned with him to the car, carrying a plate of Chinese cookies. Joe, munching one thick biscuit as he led her to the car, found its flavor and texture very strange; it was unlike either its American or Japanese counterpart so that he could not decide whether he liked it or not. Although the woman was about Mrs. Hattori's age, she immediately called the latter "mama," assuring her that Mr. Hattori would be coming soon, very soon. Mrs. Hattori, mortified, gave excessive thanks for the cookies which she would just as soon have thrown in the woman's face. Mrs. Wu, for so she introduced herself, left them after wagging her head in amazement that Mrs. Hattori, so young, should have so many children and telling her frankly, "No wonder you so skinny, mama." "Skinny, ha!" Mrs. Hattori said to the boys. "Well, perhaps. But I'd rather be skinny than fat." Joe, looking at the comfortable figure of Mrs. Wu going up the steps of the brown house, agreed. Again it was dark when Mr. Hattori came back to the car, but Mrs. Hattori did not say a word . Mr. Hattori made a feeble joke about the unreliability of snakes, but his wife made no attempt to smile. About halfway home she said abruptly, "Please stop the machine, Mr. Hattori. I don't want to ride another inch with you." "Now, mother ..." Mr. Hattori said. "I've learned my lesson. I swear this is the last time." "Please stop the machine, Mr. Hattori," his wife repeated. Of course the car kept going, so Mrs. Hattori, hugging the baby to herself with one arm, opened the door with her free hand and made as if to hop out of the moving car. The car stopped with a lurch and Mr. Hattori, aghast, said, "Do you want to kill yourself?" "That's a very good idea," Mrs. Hattori answered, one leg out of the door. "Now, mother ..." Mr. Hattori said. I'm sorry; I was wrong to stay so ong. I promise on my word of honor never to go near that house again. Come let's go home now and get some supper." "Supper!" said Mrs. Hattori. "Do you have any money for groceries?" "I have enough for groceries," Mr. Hattori confessed. Mrs. Hattori pulled her leg back in and pulled the door shut. "You see!" she cried triumphantly. "You see!" The next time, Mrs. Wu brought out besides the cookies a paper sackful of Chinese firecrackers for the boys. "This is America," Mrs. Wu said to Mrs. Hattori. "China and Japan have war, all right, but (she shrugged) it's not our fault. You understand?" Mrs. Hattori nodded, but she did not say anything because she did not feel her English up to the occasion. "Never mind about the firecrackers or the war," she wanted to say. "Just inform Mr. Hattori that his family awaits without." Suddenly Mrs. Wu, who out of the corner of her eye had been examining another car parked up the street, whispered, "Cops!" and ran back into the house as fast as she could carry her amplitude. Then the windows and doors of the brown house began to spew out all 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 1
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The Brown House By Yamamoto Discussion Questions Understanding the Story 1. What is special about the brown house? What circumstances lead Mr. Hattori to go there the first time? 2. After promising himself to “never again” visit the gambling den, Mr. Hattori returns the following week. (This is a good example of dramatic irony, when a character's action results in the opposite of what he or she had intended.) How does a dream make both Mr. and Mrs. Hattori feel that he should go back to the brown house? 3. How does Mrs. Wu handle Mrs. Hattori's attempts to get her husband to leave the house? 4. In the family's experience with the black man, there are further ironies, particularly verbal irony-a difference between what the speaker and the reader perceive in the situation. a. What is the irony of the black man's warm thanks to Mr. Hattori? b. What is the irony in Mr. Hattori's retort, "That's different"? 5. What strategies-verbal, p h y s i c a l , and psychological does Mrs. Hattori use to encourage her husband to stop gambling? What strategies-verbal, physical, and psychological-does Mr. Hattori use to assert his authority in the family? Who is more successful? Why? 6. In what ways is Joe's reaction to his mother's tears different from the nephew's reaction to his aunt and uncle's domestic problems? What factors might explain the differences? 7. What are the dramatic ironies (the differences between expectation and result) in Mr. Hattori's winning the lottery and his announcement, "We're rich!"? 8. What would explain Mrs. Hattori's "bleak eyes"? Developing a Way with Words 1. Identify the character who makes each of the following comments and explain what he or she means by the words in dark type. a. "I suppose this is supposed to be the compensation." b. "China and Japan have war, all right, but . .. it's not our fault." c. "You might be a king in silk shirts or riding a white horse, but we all got to die sometime." d. "Your wife's taken a powder."
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e. "Tell her to go jump in the lake." f. "Yippee, banzai, yippee, banzai." 2. At four points in the story, one character has power over another because of greater fluency in a language: Mrs. Wu over Mrs. Hattori; the black man over Mr. Hattori; the nephew over Mr. Hattori; Mr. Hattori over the nephew. a. How does language give power at each of these four points? b. From your experience, are the situations realistic? Making Connections 1. Discuss the ways in which "The Brown House" illustrates one or more of the themes mentioned in the introduction. (You might also want to discuss the themes in relation to more recent immigrant groups in the same or other parts of the country.) 2. How does the brown house provide a context to illustrate the interaction between different ethnic groups in California? a. How do the Hattori sons and nephew serve to illustrate the tensions between the first (lsei) and second (Nisei) generations of Japanese Americans? b. How do the situations of the adults in the story illustrate the "uneasy adjustment" of the first generation of Japanese Americans? c. How does Mrs. Hattori's situation illustrate the special restrictions placed on the first generation of Japanese American women? 3. A stereotype is an unchanging idea, either positive or negative, about something. "The Brown House" provides examples of both positive and negative stereotyping. Dis cuss, and perhaps write about, one or more of the following questions about racial and ethnic stereotyping. a. What is the black man's stereotype of Japanese people? Do you think he would still feel that way if he could hear and understand Mr. Hattori's remarks about him? b. Do Mr. and Mrs. Hattori seem to be stereotypes of first-generation Japanese immigrants? Why or why not? Do the portraits of Mrs. Wu in "The Brown House" and the old man in "The Chaser" by John Collier seem to be stereotypes of Chinese people? Why or why not?
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