“The Brown House” Summary: Hisaye Yamamoto Short Story

The Brown House Summary Hisaye Yamamoto Short Story
“The Brown House” Summary

“The Brown House” is a short story by Hisaye Yamamoto from her excellent collection Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories. It’s about a man who starts frequenting a gambling den when his farm takes a downturn and the effect this has on his family. Here’s a summary of “The Brown House”.

“The Brown House” Summary

There’s a bumper crop of strawberries in California. By the end of the season, the prices have dropped badly. The Hattori’s start arguing over Mr. Hattori’s schemes to make more money. He hears of a house in a neighboring town where fortunes are made.

At the first opportunity, the whole family—Mr. and Mrs. Hattori and their five young sons—visit the house at two in the afternoon. They wait in the car while Mr. Hattori goes in to briefly check it out. When he comes back, it’s dark outside.

It’s a large brown house with an old barn in the back and a few acres of asparagus. Mrs. Hattori wonders what’s keeping her husband. She sees other people going inside but few coming out. When he finally returns, he explains it’s a gambling den run by a Chinese family. He lost twenty-five dollars, which alarms his wife.

The youngest boy cries and everyone is hungry. Mr. Hattori feels he’s learned his lesson.

The next week, they return. Mr. Hattori had dreamed of a white snake, which everyone knows is a sign of good luck. He’ll only stay a half hour to see if his luck holds.

He misses the deadline so Mrs. Hattori sends the oldest boy, Joe, to the door where he’s sent away by a man. She sends him again, which brings out the proprietress, Mrs. Wu, with some cookies. She says Mr. Hattori will be out soon.

It’s dark when he returns. He doesn’t say much, and starts driving home. Mrs. Hattori wants him to stop so she can get out. He tries to calm her down. He swears never to go near the house again. He has enough to buy some food for supper.

Next time at the house, Mrs. Wu brings out cookies and firecrackers for the boys. She sees a cop car on the street and rushes back inside. People start pouring out and driving off or hiding in the field. A black man gets in the back of the Hattori’s car and ducks. He begs to be allowed to hide a while. Mrs. Hattori relents and calms the screaming kids down.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hattori comes out. He rid himself of anything incriminating and was allowed to go. After a mile, the black man says he can get out now, which startles Mr. Hattori, who didn’t know he was there. The man thanks him for the kindness.

Mr. Hattori argues with his wife over the man’s presence, whom he describes with a racial slur, with her pointing out Mr. Hattori was inside the house with him too. They continue to argue at home, culminating in Mr. Hattori beating his wife in front of the children. She has to get her ribs taped. They’re both shaken by the experience.

“The Brown House” Summary, Cont’d

When the house reopens a few weeks later, Mr. Hattori starts going frequently by himself. Some nights he doesn’t come home.

Mrs. Hattori expresses her sorrow to her oldest son, Joe, who’s only in first grade. She feels bad for burdening him with it.

Eventually, Mrs. Hattori takes her two youngest boys and goes to her sister’s place in a nearby town. Mr. Hattori follows her but isn’t received.

He resolves to do better. He busies himself working in the field, takes care of the housework, feeds the other children as well as he can, and stays away from the brown house.

On the sixth day of this, one of their nephews comes with the message that Mrs. Hattori is staying away for good and wants the other boys sent to her. Mr. Hattori sends him away angrily, saying his wife needs to come home.

Mrs. Hattori comes home with the two boys that night. Life is peaceful for a while. Mr. Hattori stays away from the brown house for almost a month. When he starts up again, he spaces out his visits and doesn’t stay long.

One evening, Mr. Hattori comes home very excited. He won a jackpot of two thousand dollars. He puts the money on his wife’s lap. Everyone is stunned at first. Mrs. Hattori jumps up, letting the money fall to the floor. She says angrily that her husband doesn’t understand.

Mrs. Hattori wanted the money burned, but they keep it. They buy a new car, washing machine and rug. The car and washing machine get repossessed after a few months, and the money is gone.

They’ve resumed their old routine of waiting in the car outside the brown house for Mr. Hattori. Joe is periodically sent to the door. The boys have acquired a taste for the Chinese cookies. Mrs. Hattori is pregnant again. She becomes attached to Mrs. Wu, who has never seen such bleak eyes.

I hope this summary of “The Brown House” by Hisaye Yamamoto was helpful.