In the novel, “The Buddha in the Attic,” the author explores the journey and lives of Japanese women who travel from Japan to America during the early 1900s. Julie Otsuka provides an account of the lives of these immigrants in the eight chapters in the book. The desire to achieve the American dream includes one of the significant themes in the book. The believers of the American dream perceive that a better life is a product of hard work. The women who traveled from Japan to America, therefore, hoped they would find a better life in America. The Japanese women hoped to marry well-to-do men who would take care of them. This paper will entail an analysis of the theme of the pursuit of the American dream in “The Buddha in the Attic.”
In the novel, the Japanese women leave their home country to search for a better life in America. The living conditions in Japan are unbearable due to hardships associated with poverty. One of the women asks “Do you want to spend the rest of your life crouched over a field?” (Otsuka 16). The Japanese women, therefore, make the voyage to escape the poor life in Japan and hope for a better life in America. The decision to make the voyage, therefore, represents the pursuit of the American dream. America is considered the land of opportunity where people can seize their dreams through hard work. The Japanese women believed that America would offer them the opportunity to have a better life. After they board the ship, the women compare photographs of their future husbands. They envision their future husbands as handsome young men with impressive cars and luxurious lifestyles. The handsome young men have promised to wait for their brides at the dock. “During the journey, the women wonder whether they will have happiness with their husbands” (LeGuin).
The experiences of the women while on the boat further show the theme of the pursuit of the American dream in the novel. In their sleep in small and dirty beds, they dream of a better life with their future husbands. They dream of having “pretty houses and other luxurious items including silk clothing” (Campbell 8). Sometimes the women dream of the rice paddies in Japan and they wake up from the nightmare gasping for air. They are determined to achieve the American dream, and they dread their past life in Japan. For a woman who did not make the voyage, “she would wonder about the life that could have been” (Otsuka 15). When the women are not asleep, they chat about their expectations of America late into the night. They are optimistic that they possess the qualities required to make good wives for their future husbands. According to the women, life in America will be better since the women there do not have to undergo the hardships experienced in Japan. In America, the women do not work in the fields unlike in Japan where the women spend hours cultivating rice paddles. The women, therefore, desire to live the American dream, a life of fortune and happiness.
The arrival of the ship and the fate that the women meet further reinforces the theme of the American dream in the novel. After the boat arrives in California, the Japanese women realize that they had been deceived. The men they meet at the shore are anything but the men in the photographs. The men are not handsome, and they do not meet their expectations. They are also not rich and do not have prospects of acquiring fortunes. The Japanese women discover that they were duped and the letters they received were meant to lure them into America. “Despite the disappointment, the women believe that they can continue to pursue the American dream” (Becker 13). They accept their fate and hope that things will take a turn for the best in the future. However, the women are presently unaware of the ill-fated future that awaits them. On the first night after their marriages, they are expected to consummate their marriages. Some of the men are decent and rent the best hotels that they can afford. However, some women meet “ill-mannered men who take them by force on the floors of cheap and horrible inns” (Campbell 9). After consummation of the marriages, the men share secrets that reveal their struggles through life including their poor backgrounds as fishermen. The experiences of the women on that night show their disillusion of the American dream. They realize that they might not live the American dream and a life of happiness.
The tolerance of the women of the life in America further shows their hope for the materialization of the American dream. The women expected that they would live with their husbands in pretty and luxurious houses. They dreamt of decent jobs rather than their previous “tedious jobs working in rice paddles” (Campbell 11). However, the women live in labor camps with their husbands in the outskirts of towns. The living conditions are deplorable including the heat that they experience while working in the fields picking strawberries and grapes. They lived in structures such as long tents and abandoned school buildings instead of decent houses. Their husbands teach the women to work in the fields and to shout for water in case they feel faint while working. The working conditions are harsh, and one woman dies from the heat. Although the women hoped to live the American dream in the new country, hardship characterizes their new lives (Becker 13). Their new lives are worse compared to their past lives in Japan working in the rice paddies. They work for white bosses who they are taught to fear and comply with the orders that they give. The women attempt to bridge the language barrier by learning some English phrases and words, but their knowledge does not help them. Their husbands urge them to work hard in the fields, and they cover for them when they sick or unable to work. Despite their hard work, the women do not achieve the American dream, and they live a deplorable life.
“The Buddha in the Attic” recounts the lives of Japanese women who strive to achieve the American dream. The Japanese women leave their homeland to “search for a better life devoid of hardships” (LeGuin). In Japan, the women live hard lives where they work in rice paddles and struggle in their social lives. They, however, believe that America would liberate them and enable them to create new families with their husbands. Before their arrival in America, the women perceived that they would have a happy life in the new land. They desired to have a decent job rather than the tedious work of the rice paddies in Japan. However, the Japanese women meet a horrible fate in America, and they learn that they were deceived. The men they meet are neither handsome nor wealthy. Most of the men are not gentlemen, and they subject the women to non-consented sex and undesirable living conditions. They introduce them to the harsh life working in the fields for white bosses. Their life in America does not live up to their expectations, and they do not have they happy lives they desired. The fate they meet in America further reinforces the theme of the American dream in the novel. However, the lives of the women in the new country contradict the conceptions of the American dream.
In conclusion, “The Buddha in the Attic” emphasizes the theme of the pursuit of the American dream. The voyage that the women make and their decision to leave their country represent their hopes for the American dream. They envision themselves living in pretty houses with their handsome husbands. According to them, leaving Japan and the rice paddles is the best event to happen in their lives. However, their life in America does not fulfill their expectations and hopes. They find themselves living in deplorable conditions with men who they did not deem as worthy husbands. In the novel, the experiences of the women reinforce and reveal the theme of the American dream. In their journey, the women are filled with expectations of fortune and happiness. They envision living happy lives with their handsome future husbands. They believe that leaving their home country is a step towards achieving the American dream in their lives.