Point of Departure 5: Autobiographies tend to fall along a continuum, from active to contemplative. The Autobiography of Mother Jones is an account of an astonishingly active life. Throughout her book, Mother Jones acts with high purpose and resolve, but engages in limited introspection. By contrast, The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux is a highly reflective work. The Saint demands purity in her every thought and action, and she continually examines how God’s will operates in other’s lives. For this Point of Departure prompt, engage in an act of deep reflection. Describe a time when you were a “fly on the wall” — a non-participant, and yet an eye-witness to some telling event. What did observing that event reveal to you?
While traveling on a steamer ship from Japan to America for the first time, Sugimoto compares her traditional Japanese style of dress with that of the promenading American ladies she watched:
Of course I watched the dresses of these foreign ladies with the greatest interest. My uncle’s remarks regarding the low neck and scanty skirt of the Japanese dress had astonished and troubled me very much, and since I was the only Japanese woman on the ship among some fifty or sixty American ladies, I felt responsible not to disgrace my nation. The Japanese dress is so made that it can be properly worn only when put on in one certain way, but I, inspired with a combination of girlish modesty and loyal patriotism, tried to pull the embroidered folds at the neck close up to my chin; and I remained seated as much as possible so my scanty skirt would not be noticed.
The weather was unpleasant at the beginning of the voyage, and few ladies came on deck, but it was not long before the promenading commenced, and then I began to suspect that my uncle’s opinion might not be wholly correct; but it was not until an evening entertainment where there was dancing that I entirely lost faith in his judgment. There the high collar and stiff cuffs of the gentlemen were to be seen, just as he had said; but I found that most of the ladies’ dresses were neither high in the neck nor full in the skirt, and I saw many other things which mystified and shocked me. The thin waists made of lawn and dainty lace were to me most indelicate, more so, I think, unreasonable though it seemed, than even the bare neck. I have seen a Japanese servant in the midst of heavy work in a hot kitchen, with her kimono slipped down, displaying one entire shoulder; and I have seen a woman nursing her baby in the street, or a naked woman in a hotel bath, but until that evening on the steamer I had never seen a woman publicly displaying bare skin just for the purpose of having it seen. For a while I tried hard to pretend to myself that I was not embarrassed, but finally, with my cheeks flaming with shame, I slipped away and crept into my cabin berth wondering greatly over the strange civilization of which I was so soon to be a part.