removes the live chicks first, placing them in her apron . . . there
is calm efficiency in her face and she does not speak. Her eyes
are steady and matter-of-fact—the eyes of Japanese motherhood. They
do not invade and betray. They are eyes that protect, shielding
what is hidden most deeply in the heart of the child.
This passage identifies the positive
and deeply comforting side of traditionally Japanese notions of
proper behavior. The preference for tranquility over displays of
raw emotion does not necessarily indicate repression. It can also
suggest, as it does here, a complete and calm acceptance of another
person’s behavior. Naomi’s mother is not faking serenity. The matter-of-fact
expression on her face is an accurate expression of her matter-of-fact
attitude toward her daughter. Her daughter’s foolishness has just
resulted in the death of innocent chicks, but Naomi’s mother is
not angry, and she is not simply hiding her anger under a mask of
calmness. Whatever Naomi does, her mother will accept. Whatever
Naomi thinks, feels, and says, her mother will greet with serenity.
It is a policy of total, effortless, and unconditional love. It
is also a policy of respect. The eyes that “do not invade and betray”
allow Naomi to have her own individual self, separate from her family
and as private as she wants it to be.
In the broader context of the novel, the action Naomi’s
mother takes in this passage highlights her role as powerful comforter
and protector. Throughout the narrative, chicks stand for innocence, and
their violent deaths reveal the unrelenting cruelty the world rains
on its most undeserving inhabitants. Naomi’s mother has not been
able to prevent the death of many of the chicks, which suggests that
no one has the power to make an unjust world just, but in this passage
she does save some of them. Her ability to scoop up and rescue the
defenseless birds is unique. Elsewhere in the novel, no one intercedes
on their behalf. The suggestion is that in Naomi’s life, only her
mother is truly capable of protecting her. When Naomi’s mother goes
to Japan, she leaves Naomi alone in a harsh world.