Chasing the American Dream: The Message Behind Otsuka’s Literary Devices

What is the American Dream? It’s the idea that people can come to America with nothing and make something out of nothing; the pulling oneself up by his or her own boot straps. “The Buddha in the Attic”, is a poetic novel written by Julie Otsuka accounting a group of Japanese brides chasing the American Dream. The novel is written in a poetic fashion, detailing the experiences of Japanese immigrants during the bombing of Pearl Harbor and internment of all people of Japanese descent in the United States. Julie Otsuka utilizes multiple literary devices such as assonance and imagery to convey a group of women chasing a dream that is seemingly unattainable.

Otsuka writes this book in a lyrical voice that is unique. The book is written from a first-person plural that describes the experiences from a group perspective, not just from one person at a time. This collective, first-person plural voice is able to provide the reader with a full picture of the experience of Japanese immigrants. Assonance is used to emphasis this group of women had a collective experience as brides from Japan, We stopped writing home to our mothers. We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting. We simply worked, that’s all. We gulped down our meals three times a day without saying a word to our husbands so we could hurry back out into the fields (37) The emphasis on “we” and being repeated multiple times ensures that the reader understands that these feelings were universal among the group. The usage of assonance emphasizes that the book is written from a collective, first-person plural perspective. Otsuka’s purpose was to not have one main character and would prevent her from telling everyone’s story in equal detail.

Not only does Otsuka make sure the perspective from where the book is written is known, but she also describes scenes vividly to the reader. The use of imagery paints a full picture of the experience of this group of Japanese immigrant brides. An example of imagery is in the first section of the book, “On the boat we slept down below in steerage, where it was filthy and dim….our beds were narrow metal racks stacked one on top of the other and our mattresses were hard and thin and darkened with the stains of other journeys, other lives” (4). This helps to paint the image of what conditions the women came to America in. This example of imagery helps the reader empathize with the women and understanding why they wanted to move to America to fulfill their American Dream.

Since the overall point-of-view is told from a first-person plural with the lack of a main character taking over the novel, this also shows the dehumanization the American government did during this time. All people of Japanese descent, even American citizens, were thrown into internment camps. The section titled The Children, discuss that their children wanted to lose their identity as Japanese. They adopted to the Western cultural norms and learned to forget their standard Japanese traditions. The novel’s collective point-of-view represents the marginalization of women in a male-dominated society. By having a collective group voice, instead of focusing on the developing of separate voices, the novel places the women’s universal experiences upfront, and leaves the individual women anonymous.

There are no individual characters, but Otsuka is able to provide an insight to individual stories within the first-person plural perspective. While it’s a collective voice, the reader is somehow able to gather that there are individual’s within this group. Each section of the book details more about immigrant life, such as, getting jobs, dealing with the isolation of being Japanese, and realizing their children are forgetting traditions. When the executive order is issued, Otsuka chooses to begin naming the women that make up the collective “we” throughout the book. This is done, because the American government lumped all Japanese into one group, but Otsuka pays homage to that by making sure the reader knows these women did not lose their identity within this isolation of Japanese people, simply because of their descent regardless of their background or history.