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In the novel The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, the author tells a story about a Chinese teenager, Stephen, who moves to a small village named Tarumi to recover from Tuberculosis. While there, he meets the housekeeper, Matsu, who cares for Stephen while he is at the beach house. Matsu also introduces Stephen to a woman named Sachi, a patient with leprosy, who once used to be beautiful, but is now isolated in the small mountain village of Yamaguchi. Sachi once a teenager living a normal life with a loving family is now a stranger living in isolation in a small village. Sachi demonstrates that one can decide their own fate and have the power to choose their own destiny by accepting their situation. Similarly, Stephen’s reaction to isolation was at first painful and depressing but he makes the choice to adapt to the Japanese lifestyle and turn the experience into a positive one. By using characters Stephen and Sachi, Tsukiyama uses characterization to show how characters are affected by unexpected changes and how each individual can make the choice to overcome any challenge and achieve their well being, if they accept their situation.
Tsukiyama shows Sachi’s changing attitude while she is battling leprosy and describes how she accepts unwanted changes to create a better life for herself. During a discussion between Sachi and Stephen, Tsukiyama shares how devastated Sachi felt at the beginning. Sachi describes to Stephen her lonely nights when she first arrived in Yamaguchi away from her family, and how she “cried out of a deep loneliness for [her] past life…and it was always hardest during the night, when the darkness stole away any signs of hope. Sometimes [she] would strike [her] forehead with [her] fist until [her] face was bruised” (Tsukiyama 143). The author uses the word “deep loneliness” to show the depth of connection she has with her family and her past life. Tsukiyama shows the amount of pain Sachi had felt as she would “strike [her] forehead with [her] fist”. The reader can see the sorrow and the depression that Sachi feels. When this event takes place, Sachi is only a young woman who has been recently developed leprosy. The young Sachi is pessimistic and is traumatized by leaving her family and going to a new place with “scary” people, or others who have been effected the the disease. Another example of how Tsukiyama shows the change in Sachi’s attitude and her ability to overcome hardships is when Sachi visits Tarumi after many years, Stephen asks her if she misses any of her old friends and family. She answers “The bridge represented the samurai’s difficult path from this world to the afterlife. When you reach the top of the bridge, [someone] can see [their] way to paradise. [She] feel as if the past few days have given [her] a glimpse of that. To simply live a life without fear has been a true paradise” (Tsukiyama 58). The author uses the bridge imagery to show the journey that Sachi has gone through. The word “fear” in the quote shows the isolation and the sadness she had been facing. Tsukiyama relates the samurai to Sachi, as they both face many challenges throughout their lives, and going up the steep bridge is much harder than going down. When she is at the peak of bridge, Sachi realizes through her journey that there is more to life than pain and suffering. This quote shows how Sachi has found peace with herself and accepts her circumstances. She understands that she has the power to live in the present, even though she did not have a choice with her unexpected past. Sachi explains in this particular quote how she has overcome isolation and unexpected changes as she now feels content about her lifestyle, comparing it to “paradise”. Throughout the story, the reader can see the changing attitude of Sachi as she tackles the disease. At first, she feels depressed, alone and isolated, but after some time as Sachi begins to accept her fate, she starts changing her attitude towards leprosy and slowly becomes optimistic about her future. Through Sachi’s change of attitude and her strong will to overcome the challenges, the reader experiences how Tsukiyama uses characterization to show that every individual has the power to accept change and be content.
Using another character, Stephen, Tsukiyama shows yet again how an individual can overcome the unexpected changes they face, by accepting their situation. In this case, Stephen makes an effort to enjoy his stay in Tarumi and eventually adjusts to enjoy the small village life. When Stephen first arrived in Tarumi, he is lonely and feels isolated, but as the story continues, Stephen begins to accept change and by the end of the story does not want to leave. At first, Stephen feels out of place and can not adjust to the silence and the change of environment. He realizes it’s hard to “ have to adapt to the silence, put away all the noise and comforts of [his] family and friends in Hong Kong and Canton. It’s harder than [he] imagined, to be alone. I suppose [he] might get used to it, like an empty canvas [someone] slowly begin to fill” (Tsukiyama 13). Tsukiyama uses the imagery of the blank canvas to show that Stephen has the power to choose to accept his circumstances and give himself a chance to start a brand new life, with hope and optimism. The author uses the word “empty” to show how Stephen has the opportunity to create anything on this blank canvas and have a fresh new start. This quote is an example of how Stephen is beginning to accept his situation, and understanding that he has the opportunity to enjoy his stay, instead of focusing on the negative of being away from his comfort zone. After a year of living in Tarumi, Stephen has finally started to enjoy the his new life. Stephen then gets a letter from his mother which talks about how he should stay in Tarumi a bit longer. Stephen is relieved to hear this and believes that “It was true, after almost a year in Tarumi [he] had adapted to the Japanese way of life, from the gardens to the mountain village of Yamaguchi, but unlike my father, [he] was still pulled home by the scents and sounds of [his] other life” (Tsukiyama 158). The author uses the word “scents” to show how there are light, and lingering feelings about home in his new life. Tsukiyama also uses the word “adapted” to define Stephen’s changing attitude, as adapted means to change to the surroundings. This quote portrays that with passage of time, Stephen changes to overcome isolation and sadness to start a new life and be happy. In fact, he is sad at the thought of leaving the once thought boring, sad, and depressing place! The author demonstrates how each individual has the power of choice to make a change. In this case, it was Stephen, who takes his challenges with a positive attitude to achieve happiness.
Using characterization of Sachi’s journey through leprosy, and Stephen’s visit to Tarumi alone, Tsukiyama shares characters that are affected by unexpected changes or isolation, and demonstrates that a person can overcome any challenge to achieve their well being. An individual may not have a choice whether tragedy or changes will strike, but they do have the choice on how they will react to the situation. In the case of The Samurai’s Garden, Sachi and Stephen are both portrayed as dynamic characters. Unexpected changes may seem terrible at first, though, people can use them as an opportunity to reflect on their lives, and overcome the challenges to be successful and happy. Using both Sachi and Stephen, Tsukaima shows no matter how devastating the situation, an individual always has the power to choose their outcome.
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