Mura’s “An Argument: On 1942”: An Interpretation

David Mura is a third-generation Japanese-American writer. “An argument” is a poem written by him depicting the traumatic experience of the Japanese living in America during the days of the Second World War. The situation then was something similar to the one the Muslim population in America (though not so severe)undergoes today, after the attack on Iraq. The Japanese were collected in one place and barbed wire was placed around them, with guards with weapons watching them. Mura’s mother wanted to avoid recollecting the shocking memory of her days as a child. It is the curiosity of the son which compelled her to reveal the hardships she experienced. A summary of the poem is the focus of this paper.

The first stanza of the twenty-one-line poem is given in italics to show that it is a report of an event in 1942 given by someone and not by his mother. It also indicates that the son had to rely on such reports from outside sources to understand the gravity of the situation experienced by the Japanese in America during the days of the war. It was not discussed in the family. The Buddha temple indicates the concentration of Japanese and the stores show the place where they used to work. The second stanza beginning in the style of a dramatic monologue explains his mother’s objection to the reference to the war days: “–No, no, no, she tells me. Why to bring it back?” (Mura). The lack of communication between the parent-child and the son’s curiosity to fathom the ethnic betrayal are explicit in these words. The use of words like shoyu- stained furoshiki, mochi gives a Japanese color to the poem, apart from the music it provides. They also reveal the routine life they had. The mother is trying to tone down the seriousness and gravity of their suffering by stating that “Mostly we were bored. Women cooked and sewed, /men played blackjack, dug gardens, a banjo. / Who noticed barbed wire, guards in the towers?” (Mura). The poet’s grandmother used to do whatever she could to take care of her children. The mother reminds her son that it was “But cancer, not the camps made her throat blacker”. She thus tries to play down the seriousness and console him. The grandmother had died before he was born: “but why can’t you glean/ how far we’ve come, how much I can’t recall—“, tells the mother. The last line of the poem is left alone as it gives stress on a reality: “David, it was so long ago–how useless it seems” (Mura).

“An Argument” is a political poem. It reveals the political crime inflicted on an ethnic minority. More than that, it highlights its traumatic effects on future generations. Such scars remain in the psyche of the posterity. Innocent people are always suspected of espionage. This is the fate of the Asians living in America, though they are not subjected to slavery-like what the black people experience. Altogether, David Mura’s poem is beautiful.


Mura, David. “An Argument: 1942.” American Literature, Volume II (Penguin Academics Series) 1 Book Paperback (limp)

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