“The Legend of Miss Sasagawara” Short Summary

The Legend of Miss Sasagawara is a narrative of tragedy. A tragedy typically illustrates the downfall of the protagonist, who is usually a person of good standing, through one or a series of tragic incidents that he or she does not have control over. The protagonist usually has a wish to achieve some goal but encounters obstacles along the way. The outcome is that the protagonist is unable to overcome these challenges and therefore suffers a change in fortune and experiences a tragic ending. In this text, Miss Sasagawara is revealed to be a ballet dancer and an educated woman who owns “lots and lots of books” (29).

However, she is subjected to social alienation when her outer appearance and her behavior set her apart from the rest. In the beginning paragraph, Miss Sasagawara is introduced as a “decorative ingredient”, wearing “arrestingly rich colors” (20) and garnering attention by society for her distinct outer appearance. Already, this description of Miss Sasagawara’s exterior has distinguished her from the other ordinary Japanese in the internment camp from the start. Furthermore, even the way Miss Sasagawara conducts herself is different. It is said her “measured walk” seemed as though “walking were not a common but a rather special thing to be doing.” (20)

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Because of her strikingly different appearance and the way she carried herself, the others start to form their own opinions in order to justify why she is unusual and does not conform to the norm. For instance, she was called “temperamental” simply because she was a ballet dancer (21).

It is evident that this argument is fallacious because a hasty generalization is being made, in which it is assumed that all ballet dancers are temperamental. These justifications become increasingly flawed and consequently take the form of gossip and rumors. Throughout the text, there are numerous instances in which Miss Sasagawara has been the fodder for gossip, even when the sources “were not what [one] would ordinarily pay much attention to” (30), indicating there was no factual evidence supporting these rumors.

In fact, Elsie had actually found Miss Sasagawara “amiable” (21) when she personally met her, but she still chose to believe in the rumors that suggest Miss Sasagawara was a “madwoman” (21) instead. Excluded from society, Miss Sasagawara’s wish for acceptance showed when the narrator and Elsie had a brief encounter with her. She had revealed her “hopeful” and “wistful” (22) desire to befriend them, but these desires were immediately flayed by Elsie’s quick refusal to interact with Miss Sasagawara.

This incident does indeed coincide to the narrative of a tragedy, in which the character is helpless against obstacles, which in this case constitute social exclusion borne out of prejudiced judgments. Through this text, Yamamoto skillfully conjures up a parallel between the treatment of Asian Americans and the treatment Miss Sasagawara receives in the internment camp. Just as how the text reveals to the reader how rumors are judgments readily made on people who act differently from the norm, it is impressed upon the reader how the significance of the text extends to reality in which there are frequent occurrences of judgments made on people of different races, more specifically the Asian American population.

This text reveals just how prejudiced opinions are formed merely based on superficial differences before one even gets to know and understand the Asian American community. This significance is amplified fittingly in the title of this text, in which a legend is a popular unverifiable myth. Likewise, many assumptions made on the Asian American immigrants are more often than not, based on personal opinions and may not be true.

In such a way, the Japanese internment camp is an allegory of the actual world. Just as how Miss Sasagawara was excluded from the rest even though they were all of the same race, so discrimination is often apparent in society although it is deemed unfair as we are all human beings, and should be treated equally with respect. As mentioned earlier, Miss Sasagawara does possess worthy merits such as being intellectual and refined.

However, her merits are disregarded simply because she was different in appearance from the rest. Yamamoto uses Miss Sasagawara’s character to challenge the presupposed notion that people who are different are necessarily not of value and thus unable to contribute positively to society. There should not be a belittling attitude taken, such as the reception Miss Sasagawara received when she took upon herself to teach a class of girls ballet, and was the only adult rewarded with a bath towel, an intimate gift that she had to open in front of the audience, bearing in mind that this very act could possibly be seen as humiliating based on traditional conservative Japanese culture.

Because of the imposed judgments placed on Miss Sasagawara, she became aloof and withdrawn from society, until misery seeps in. Her admission to the hospital on the assumption she had appendicitis when it was not the case as was verified by the doctor since “her [blood] count’s all right” (25), subtly suggests that what Miss Sasagawara may really be suffering from was the lack of concern for her emotional wellbeing instead of a physical illness.

This characterization therefore serves to remind one of the consequences that arise if one continues to discriminate and disregard the merits of others simply based on their race. It is crucial to understand that discrimination by race is unjustified and should be eradicated, failing which people who could otherwise have contributed positively to society will close up and be “aloof” and this is no way for any society to progress. Once such societal prejudices are eliminated, one can then be able to reveal one’s true personality. When Miss Sasagawara was escorted away and returned after several months, she was such a different person that everyone was “amazed at the change” at how “friendly” (28) she was. At this point, Yamamoto deviates away from a conventional tragedy narrative.

Miss Sasagawara starts to see hope in being accepted by society—the narrator’s sister has become “very attached” (28) to her and Miss Sasagawara was even given the opportunity to teach a class of girls and therefore play a more inclusive role in the community. However, even this was short-lived if prejudices continue to exist. People were still “suspicious” and “never did get used to” (28) Miss Sasagawara being approachable. Rumors heavily nestled in prejudice against Miss Sasagawara continued to circulate, and eventually forced Miss Sasagawara to be admitted into a “state institution” (30), revert back to her aloof ways and become reclusive.

Admission to a “state institution” here could perhaps represent Miss Sasagawara’s resigned fate to be subjected to society’s control to which she was helpless against and could no longer be free. This initial deviation now converges back to follow a tragedy narrative and Yamamoto uses this approach to invoke a greater sense of sympathy in the reader in the eventual tragic plight of Miss Sasagawara; for all the contributions that Miss Sasagawara put effort in, her wish to be accepted was not reciprocated but instead she was even further repressed by society.

Finally the text closes off with the discovery of a poem Miss Sasagawara penned. It is an eloquent expression of the deep anguish Miss Sasagawara felt in being neglected by her own father, who is only preoccupied with attaining enlightenment. The father figure here could possibly symbolize the government. Just as how the father is “deaf and blind” (33) to Miss Sasagawara’s needs, so the government is negligent of the needs of the minority, specifically of the Asian American community.

The government’s duty is to represent and protect the interests of all, and ensure not one community is neglected. However, this was not the case for the Asian American population in the past. The symbolism of an inattentive father character played here could thus possibly indicate how the laws passed by the American government in the past did not serve the needs of the Asian American community sufficiently.

Asian Americans could therefore only continue to live in “anguished silence” (33) helplessly, one prime example being the government’s decision to relocate Japanese and “quarantine” them from the rest of society in internment camps when World War II broke out. It was noted through Citizen 13660, a similar documentary of life in internment camps, that there were “no cases of disloyalty” and yet, the Japanese, the majority of whom were Native American citizens, had to be “removed because of their race” (Citizen 13660 ix).

In this regard, the government did not consider the rights these Japanese had as citizens and instead unfairly condemned them to a life akin to criminals in the internment camps just because of raw fear that the Japanese who had decided to make America their home will retaliate back. Yamamoto expertly highlights this example by using the internment camp as the setting for this text. Through this text, Yamamoto adeptly amplifies the desires of the Asian Americans to be recognized for their merits and contributions instead of being subjected to prejudices often borne out of superficial differences, noting that everyone is equal, and everyone deserves to be part of the community, regardless of race.

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“The Legend of Miss Sasagawara” Short Summary. (2017, Jan 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-legend-of-miss-sasagawara/