“A Bedtime Story” by Mitsuye Yamada
In “A Bedtime Story,” by Mitsuye Yamada, a father tells his daughter a story within a story about an elderly woman who struggles to find a place to stay the night and must instead sleep on a hill. The author illustrates the idea of always being something positive even when a situation appears to be at its worst by using continual rejection. Ironically, the poem’s last stanzas reveal that the older woman’s experience with the townspeople’s lack of hospitality has led to something amazing. In the poem, the older woman is exhausted and reaches where she must sleep on a hill. The girl’s father tells her this tale to encourage her to show gratitude and optimism.
“As told by Papa,” which is used in the poem’s opening line to alert readers that somehow this story is a subplot of another, is followed by the tale of an elderly woman. The older woman is turned away by everyone in the hamlet when she asks for refuge to stay the night. While it states that “an old woman journeyed through several tiny communities seeking safety,” the reader is immediately moved to compassion and comprehends this woman’s struggles. This choice of images conjures up the image of an older woman wandering the streets alone, weary, and in pain. Because the readers can picture their poor grandma going through this, this usage of imagery is very potent.
The stanza of the poem uses an anaphora together with imagery that does a great job of impacting the audience. An old woman traveled through, underscoring the anaphora that starts in line two with “an old Japanese folklore” and ends in line five with “an old woman traveled through.” both the myth. As the narrative progresses, yet another literary method is employed to illustrate the struggles and emotions this woman is experiencing. We can see this when the narrator adds that “each door opened a sliver” in verses nine through ten. This exaggeration highlights just how the woman feels by emphasizing it. Although not every individual who knocked on their door made a tiny crack in it, the way it was told was meant to convey the impression that the woman felt everyone despised her and wanted to do nothing with her. It demonstrates that she is at a terrible moment in her life and does not have much to smile about the situation.
As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the woman is too exhausted to walk. She climbs a hill with little remaining energy she has. Once more, imagery is used in this sentence once again. Similar to the preceding stanza, this imagery humanizes this woman in the reader’s eyes. Alliteration is used in lines 15 and 16 of the sentence “she wearily climbed a hill finding a clearing,” in addition to the imagery. Alliteration draws the reader’s attention to these specific words and imparts a particular tone and atmosphere. The loud “cl” sound produces a scratchy sound whenever these words are read.
In addition to producing sound, this action reinforces a negative and depressing feeling. This woman has not had a single upbeat thought since the story’s beginning and appears to have lost all sense of direction. After ascending the hill and coming across a clearing, she lay down to collect her breath, demonstrating that she has decided to give up and is now inside. This act of laying is conveyed by the word choice “climbed” and “clearing.” The narrator states, “And there lied down to rest,” since this woman is sitting on the hill. This catastrophe, which causes an abrupt change, is a vital component of the subject. The phrase “inversion” alerts the reader that the tone is about to change, and that is what happens.
The synecdoche “the village town lay asleep except for a few starlike stars” is used when she looks down the hill after she has recovered. The phrase “village town” in this statement refers to the entire population. It makes the speaker more relatable to the audience and reminds them of how this woman thinks about the locals. She feels unappreciated and diminished. The next stanza starts when the woman looks below, and “a full moon appeared in view.” The tone has altered in the following stanza, and the older woman is now joyful.
She is no longer angry with the people and does not have a bad opinion. She continues by saying that if it weren’t for their generosity, she would not have witnessed such an unforgettable scene. The application of irony reinforces the theme of positivity by persuading readers to view everything that occurred to her positively. When Papa’s tale comes to a close, the readers discover that, paradoxically, while sitting on a hill.
The reader realizes that she must have experienced a brief moment of hope every time the door opened, but the door closing followed it. The speaker uses phrases like “unable,” “wearily,” “lie,” “rest,” “catch,” and “breathe” to characterize the elderly woman. These statements emphasize how vulnerable and worn-out the older woman is, yet not a single person would provide her with a place to stay the night. She then expresses her gratitude to the people for not allowing her to keep after witnessing the stunning view of the moonlight and sky. “These lowly eyes would never have witnessed this memorable sight if it were not for your goodwill in rejecting me a bed for the night.” (lines 32-39). The individuals who turned her down for a bed were unkind to her, but now she is observing. The girl is the old woman in “Papa’s” story, which supports the idea that he is trying to instill a good view of life in his daughter. It is evident because both were sitting on hills with valley views. When the girl shouts, “That’s the end,” it is clear that she doesn’t mean it. She finds the little tale her father recounts to illustrate the significance of history lacking.
This poem’s final verse begins, “Papa hesitated, I waited. That’s the end? I yelled from the security of our hilltop Seattle home overlooking the valley. (lines 40–46) plays a significant part in poetry because it compares children’s ignorance with that of the elderly, wise mother. The young child was perplexed as the narrative ended because he could not grasp its lesson.
On the other hand, the older woman expressed gratitude to the locals for rejecting her since it allowed her to witness an incredible sight. Because she didn’t have accommodation, many people would label her as ignorant. Still, in reality, she is incredibly knowledgeable and also has learned to deal with whatever life throws at her. Even without commas, the sentences are all relatively short, causing the reader to halt more frequently as they read. When the older woman expresses gratitude that no one provided her with any place to stay, the speaker wants the listener to understand what is happening to her so that they can empathize with her better. The condensed lines draw attention to particular words, including “kindness,” which was a line by itself. ‘Memorable sight’ is another tiny but crucial line that contributes to the elderly woman’s expression of gratitude. Even without commas, the paragraphs are all relatively short, causing the reader to halt more frequently as they read.
The poem has forty-five lines in all, divided into five stanzas. This poem is a narrative within a story, which makes it special. In the poem’s opening lines, a young girl introduces her father. After the father has finished sharing his tale, the daughter continues. Because the poem is about a parent telling a young girl a story, the style is straightforward. The poem is free verse, has no set rhyme pattern, and is wrote in straightforwardly since the father was reading it to a little girl. The poem makes references to the Bible. Mary was looking for a place to spend the night before giving birth to Jesus, but she was rejected in every home she visited.
She was weak and worn out when she eventually managed to spend the night in a barn where the birth of Christ took place. The similarities between the two tales include the requirement for a location to stay, getting turned down, and a fantastic event. Mitsuye Yamada, the poem’s author, was an American citizen born in 1923. Her family was detained in a detention center for a full two years since her father was considered a spy (Pereira, 2019). This incident inspired her to write “A Bedtime Story” because after leaving the camp, she carried forward with her life, maintained her optimism, and enrolled in college. This 1923 poem is a superb work of writing that reminds us to maintain a cheerful view of life. The older woman and Yamada went through a tough time, yet they both managed to look for the positive and move on.
Pereira, Daniel. “Bedtime Books, The Bedtime Story Ritual, and Goodnight Moon”. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol 44, no. 2, 2019, pp. 156-172. Project Muse.