Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Etsuko marries her first husband, Jiro, in Japan, for whom she slaves away around the house. It is a traditional, prearranged marriage which has not brought her happiness. Whenever they have visitors, she bows to them, pours tea, and retreats often to the kitchen unnoticed, fetching food to satisfy the guests' enormous appetite. One of Jiro's friends is rumored to have beaten his wife with a golf club because she refuses to vote the way he wants. Spousal abuse is a fun topic for conversation to Jiro, and disobedience to one's husband is an abhorrence to Ogata-San, Etsuko's father-in-law. "It's a sad state of affairs when a wife can't be relied on in such matters any more (p. 65), he laments.
I, therefore, can understand why Etsuko looks for a happier environment for herself and her first child, Keiko, away from a war-torn country and a male-dominated society. Unfortunately, her move to England with her second husband does not turn out to be an improvement upon her first marriage. She obviously marries him for financial security while he is probably attracted to her Japanese background. However, "despite all the impressive articles" (p. 90) he has written on Japan, Etsuko does not think the Englishman understands "the ways of our culture," much less his Japanese wife.
Sukhui in "The Young Zelkova," who also looks for happiness in a foreign country, romanticizes America and all its qualities. In school she improves her English and reads Western literature. At home, she plays tennis, eats cheese crackers, and drinks Coke. She names her stepfather Monsieur Lee although he is not even French, and has a crush on his son who, she thinks, resembles the mythical deity Apollo. Sukhui wants to go overseas where she can love and be loved by this god-like creature.
While Etsuko never finds the love she needs, Sukhui and her stepbrother will have each other although they may have difficulty adjusting themselves to new customs. I think the tale of Sachiko and Mariko, told by Etsuko, is in fact the narrator's own story. Etsuko probably has married an American drunkard -- instead of a respectable Englishman -- moves to the U.S., and trying to fill the void in her life, even has a second child, Niki. But Etsuko fails in all attempts to climb out of her state of unhappiness. She is widowed twice, Keiko commits suicide, and Niki stays away, oblivious to her mother's demands for affection.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. London: Faber and Faber, 1982.
Kang, Sinjae. "The Young Zelkova." In Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories.
Copyright © 1996 by the authors. Information from this article should be attributed to the authors.