Mother 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.