Hisaye Yamamoto’s short story “Morning Rain” was published in the collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. (Amazon) There’s also a revised edition with four additional stories. In “Morning Rain”, a woman learns something about her father as they talk one morning while he’s visiting.
Summary of “Morning Rain”
Sadako and her father, Mr. Endo, are at the kitchen table eating breakfast. He eats in his usual way, saving the two eggs for last and hardly chewing them. She can handle this habit of his, and is glad he’s not overly particular about how his eggs are prepared.
Sadako’s baby is napping and her husband, Harry, left for work earlier. It’s raining out so she won’t take a walk this morning, and she’ll have to hang her washing inside. Sadako asks her father about his plans for the day. He pauses a long time before answering as he always does. He’s going to visit the Iwanagas, see a movie, and then eat out for supper.
Sadako is relieved her father won’t be home for supper. Making conversation is difficult when he’s visiting from San Francisco. Harry doesn’t speak Japanese and her father doesn’t speak English. She ends up talking too much.
Mr. Endo asks if he should bring anything back, and Sadako says to get some manju. When he says “Okay”, they both smile to themselves, remembering how much Mrs. Endo used to say it.
Sadako suggest he take her umbrella because it’s raining. Mr. Endo didn’t know it was raining. Suddenly, Sadako realizes the rain is loud, and asks her father if he can hear it. He can’t. They stare at each other for a moment. He goes to the window and looks out at the water pouring from the eaves. He still can’t hear it, though.
Mr. Endo bring up the manju again, confirming what kind Sadako likes. He puts on his coat and Sadako brings the umbrella. Realizing she hasn’t said anything for a while, she answers his question about the manju. The baby starts crying and Sadako realizes she was yelling.
Communication is the story’s most prominent theme.
Harry, although he sometimes tries to talk to Mr. Endo, doesn’t speak enough Japanese to make it work. His efforts always “petered out in helpless English.” Likewise, Mr. Endo sometimes tries English with the same poor results. The communication between the two men is minimal.
This leaves Sadako in the middle, being able to speak both Japanese and English. Despite this advantage, her efforts don’t produce much either. She tries to keep up a pleasant conversation but it’s always tense, with her “delivering an overly ebullient monologue.” It seems she doesn’t get much back from either side. Her father has “never been one for iridescent chit-chat”, and nothing is said about her husband’s supper-time conversation with her in English. Presumably, he doesn’t make much.
The communication we’re let in on between Sadako and her father is polite, superficial and practical:
- She asks what he’s going to do today,
- he asks if he can bring anything back,
- they talk about the rain and the need for an umbrella, and
- the kind of manju that Sadako likes.
It’s also notable that the one warmer moment they experienced wasn’t shared. When they remembered their deceased mother and wife, respectively, they smiled, but not at each other, and “each remembered privately.” Clearly, there’s a significant communication barrier between them, despite the fact that they’re on good terms.
Another example occurs after Sadako realizes her father can’t hear the rain. While staring at each other, he is “not really seeing her” and she looks “as though seeing him for the first time in her life.” This disconnect emphasizes the barrier between them.
The theme of communication extends to the story’s final sentence, further emphasizing its importance. Sadako realizes she was “shouting at the top of her lungs” as her father left for his outing. The little communication they had before took noticeable effort and now it will take even more.
The overriding importance of communication is directly stated in the story: “. . . (and that was what living was, was it not, communicating with each other?)” This gives us insight into how satisfied Sadako is. If living is communicating, she’s not doing much living. She will probably feel this lack even more now that her father’s hearing is bad. (see question #1)
Theme: A Woman’s Role
This secondary theme overlaps heavily with the main theme, as it provides context for the characters’ differing views on communication.
Sadako’s role as wife and mother confines her more to the home. During most of the days, her husband is at work and her father isn’t visiting. She’s with the baby, who’s communicative abilities are very limited.
One of the main reasons the men are satisfied with talking less could be that they have other outlets. Harry works outside the home, so he probably talks to many people. Her father still works back in San Francisco, and while visiting his daughter, he goes out to see friends. Presumably, he talks to them more than he does to his family.
1. What is the significance of Sadako realizing that her father’s hearing is bad?
This is a sad, possibly devastating moment for Sadako. Her efforts at conversation suggest she would like to improve the communication between her and her father. Now, this additional barrier makes that even less likely to succeed. If the hearing loss progresses, it will eventually make the situation even worse. The extent to which they connect now seems to be as good as it ever will be.
Their difficulty communicating is represented by this physical impediment.
2. What suggests that Sadako wants to improve the communication the most?
While Harry and Mr. Endo make an occasional attempt to talk to each other, Sadako is the one who puts the most into it. Her effort is noted several times:
- At supper, she delivers an “overly ebullient monologue.”
- When asked about the manju she “nodded with unnecessary vigor.”
- As her father leaves, she shouts “at the top of her lungs.”
The men seem fairly satisfied with how things are, while Sadako wants more. The statement in the story equating living with communicating could only describe Sadako’s feelings.