Example Of Essay On The Practical Mother
Julie Otsuka’s ‘Evacuation Order No. 19’ is a short story that forms the first chapter of her book ‘When the Emperor was Divine’. The short story follows a day in the life of the woman and her kids who remain nameless throughout. The story begins with the woman reading a sign or an order pinned to the post office window and getting back home to pack everything she owns and that she could and is allowed to carry. The reader is not told of the message that the woman reads but she seems to know what she has to do. The story has a lot of tragic moments, but the woman goes through her chores in a very practical way. She does not cry, bemoan her situation and does not fall victim to hysterics. Knowing that her life is going to change drastically and also fully aware of the fact that she has no idea of the family’s destination when they are put on a train the next day, she sets about to pack and give the kids a sense of normalcy on their last day at home. She comes across as a very practical mother who knows what is in store and goes about preparing for it in a matter of fact way. She does not panic but goes about methodically packing the family’s possessions and their formal life. It is the practical, almost cold nature of the woman that strikes the reader most in the short story.
“She wrote down a few words on the back of a bank receipt, then turned around and went home and began to pack (paragraph 1).” The reader is not told in the beginning what the sign says. It is only later on that the reader gets to know that the family is being forced to leave their house and go someplace else. What is known is the sign is a government order of some sort and has instructions on what could be carried and what should be left behind. The reader gets to know about the woman right in the beginning of the story. Her reaction to an order that would turn around her life completely is to take down the instructions and walk away to pack. This might be interpreted as a sign of passive submission, but it is rather a very practical decision to do. She knows that she cannot do anything to change her situation and rather go to hysterics about what is due, she calmly writes down the instructions. She would rather pack right than lament the loss of life as she knew it. Otsuka gives a lot more incidents in the story that brings out the practical side of the woman. Her maternal instincts take over and she makes some hard decisions knowing it is the best for everyone.
One poignant moment in the story is when the woman has to kill the family dog (paragraph 30). The instructions state that pets are not allowed and the woman makes the difficult decision of killing the dog. She does not know if anyone would take in an old and ailing dog and if the dog has in it to survive without its owners. Rather than let the dog be miserable and die a slow and painful death, the woman thinks it best to kill it. When earlier the woman is seen looking for a hammer in the store, the reader does not know what is in store. It is only after she kills the dog that the reader knows what it was intended for. Although killing a pet dog can seem to be a cruel act, the woman knows that she has no time to see if anyone would adopt her dog. She also does not know what would happen to it once they leave. The best option in such a case would be to kill the dog; a practical decision. The situation is tear inducing especially the dog unaware of what is going to happen obeys her instructions dutifully. She must have been heartbroken about her decision but goes ahead with the act knowing it is the right thing to do. She also makes sure that the dog eats before it dies and has no inkling of its death. She kills the dog but lets the bird to fly away. The bird as she knows has more chances of surviving on its own than an old and sick dog.
This nature of the mother to keep things as normal as possible before the change can be seen in other areas too. When the kids return home from school, the day reveals itself to be yet another ordinary day in their lives. Apart from the packing, everything goes on normally. She just tells them to pack and put in only what they can carry. She does not scare them with the uncertainty of their life once they leave the house. She asks her daughter to go on ahead and practice the piano and does not stop her when she is preparing for a test that she would never take. The woman is also a good mother as she cooks a normal meal for the kids and does not do anything extravagant or stupid on the final day at their house. Conversations are also normal as she listens to her daughter reel of what she had learnt in the School. She does not tell her son that the killed the dog when he goes looking for it as she does not want the son to suffer the death of the dog (paragraph 40).
The only place where the woman shows any emotion in the short story is when she drinks the wine from a bottle (paragraph 105). She laughs hard uncharacteristically after seeing the empty spot where the picture of ‘The Gleaners’ used to be. Perhaps she was drowning her sorrows in alcohol not being able to cry or talk to anyone. Even after this episode she is careful enough to hide the bottle where no one can see it. Perhaps she was thinking about the kids and did not want them to see their mother in a vulnerable, weak state. She does not have her husband around; he was arrested a few months before, but she manages to run the house and keep things in order. Another instance where her practical nature comes out is when she puts a pail under the leaking roof. She is not sure about her return but still does not want the floor to get spoilt. It could have been a hope she harbored that one day she would return, but nothing in the story points to that. She also pays the guy at the convenience store even when he says it is okay for her to pay later. Coming back or not she does not want to be in anyone’s debt.
When she picks up a copy of the Berkeley Gazette, she makes sure that the ink from the paper does not stain her white silk gloves. But when she buries her dog and shovels the mud in, it gets dirty and she buries her gloves along with it too. Maybe she knows that she would not have use for them where she goes and does not want to carry anything extra. She wants to carry only what would be essential there such as the bars of soap and the large jar of face cream. She knows or understands that there is a need for practicality at this time and not a need for style or luxury. Otsuka says about the mother that she was woman who did not always follow the rules, but she did now. Perhaps it was resignation to her fate or the knowledge that resistance would prove futile. The woman thought like a mother first and set about to make the day easier for her kids. She packed everything, letting the kids decide what they wanted to bring and what they wanted to leave. Even in such a pressing situation, she respects their decisions, mostly she respects her daughter’s privacy. She notices that the daughter’s room is locked with a Do not Disturb sign. She does not go in even when she knows that it would have been better if she packed her daughter’s belongings (paragraph 15).
The woman in Otsuka’s short story is typical of many mothers who have to take care of their children by themselves. They display a stoicism and grit that would carry them and their children through difficult situations. It is the practical nature that gets the job done here. The woman would not have finished packing or packed the right things if she had let her emotions rule. Killing the dog, setting the bird free, letting go of a painting that moves her are all brutal yet decisions that must be taken so everyone benefits. The woman is practical, level-headed and acts with calm that belies the fear she must be experiencing over the future of her family.
Otsuka, Julie. “Evacuation Order no.19.” When the Emperor was Divine. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 2003. Print.