Human nature is defined as “the complex of fundamental dispositions and traits of man sometimes considered innate (belief that you can’t control human nature),” (Webster’s 1101). In both the story of Adam and Eve and “Seventeen Syllables,” by Hisaye Yamamoto, human nature is shown to be innate. Characters within each story try to control the outcome of another person’s encounter with a serpent that represents temptation, curiosity, and or sexual desires. However, despite the consequences, human nature overrules. One of the earliest examples of trying to control human nature occurred in the story of Adam and Eve.
In the Garden of Eden, God commands Adam, “You may eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:15). God then creates Eve and equally forbid her from eating off of the tree. This shows God trying to control Adam and Eve’s human nature before their encounter with the serpent. At this time they are both naked and not ashamed, this disposition soon changes.
After God’s command, Eve encounters a serpent. The serpent asks Eve, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” Eve says to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to Eve, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” (Genesis 3:6).
The serpent makes Eve unable to refrain from her curiosity concerning the forbidden tree. She realizes it’s not only good for food, but has the ability to give her god-like knowledge. Eve eventually breaks down and eats from the tree, sharing the fruit with Adam. The forbidden fruit opens their eyes, revealing their nakedness. Ashamed, they sew fig leaves together and make aprons to cover their bare skin.
Upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hear God walking in the garden. “God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself,” (Genesis 3:10). God then figures out, both Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree. Eve tells God that the serpent manipulated her into eating from it. Furious, God curses the serpent, “upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life,”(Genesis 3:16). To the woman, God says, “I will greatly multiply your pain in child-bearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” (Genesis 3:16). To Adam God said,
“You have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it, cursed the ground because of you in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of you face you shall eat bread till your return to the ground for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:17, 3:18). God was actually wrong for punishing Adam and Eve. Giving into human nature was not their fault. Singling out the serpent was also incorrect. As we see in “17 Syllables”, the serpent can also take the form of a human.
While Rosie was picking tomatoes, Jesus Carasco, “brought up the matter of them possibly meeting outside the range of both their parents dubious eyes,” (Yamamoto 12). “What for?” she had asked. “I’ve got a secret I want to tell you,” he said. “Tell me now,” she demanded. “It won’t be ready until tonight,” he said. “Tell me tomorrow then.” “It will be gone tomorrow,” he threatened. “Well for heaven sakes, what is it?” she had asked, more than twice, and when he had suggested that the packing shed be an appropriate place to find out, she had cautiously answered maybe,” (Yamamoto 13).
That night, unable to control her curiosity, Rosie lied to her parents and ran to the packing shed. She greeted Jesus by asking to be told the secret. Feeling out the situation, Jesus inquired if Rosie was sorry she had come. After questioning each other back and forth, Jesus “took hold of her empty hand, she could find no words to protest; her vocabulary had become distressingly constricted and she thought desperately that all that remained intact now was yes and no and oh, and even these few sounds would not easily out,” (Yamamoto 14). Even though the kiss lasted only a second “the reality of Jesus’ lips and tongue and teeth and hands made her pull away with such strength that she nearly tumbled over,” changing her life forever (Yamamoto 14). After the kiss, Rosie hid in the privy from the possible repercussions of indulging in what appeared to be a sin, much like Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden.
The next day, while Tome and Mr. Hayashi picked tomatoes, a beautiful, black car pulled up to their home. The man inside the car introduced himself as Mr. Kuroda, the haiku editor of the Mainichi Shimbun. Mr. Kuroda had come to personally deliver Tome the first prize in a haiku-writing contest. When given the prize, Tome bobbed her head up and down, trying to express gratitude. The editor gestured that the prize wasn’t anything extravagant, but intended to serve as a token of appreciation for her contributions. Unable to control human nature, Tome asked, “if she might open the package because her curiosity was so great,” (Yamamoto 17). The prize turned out to be a Hiroshiges (a Japanese painting). After getting an okay from Mr. Hayashi, Tome invited Mr. Kuroda inside the house for tea. After a few minutes, Mr. Hayashi sent Rosie inside to remind Tome about the tomatoes which needed to be picked. Mr. Hayashi tried to control Tome’s human nature in the middle of her encounter or conversation with Mr. Kuroda (who symbolizes the serpent). Tome told Rosie she was being rude and would only be a little longer. When Tome didn’t appear, Mr. Hayashi stormed into the house and grabbed the painting. Mr. Hayashi punished Tome for not listening to his orders, a resemblance to God cursing Adam and Eve. Outside he smashed the painting and set it on fire.
Tome and Rosie watched the fire through the back window of the house. Mr. Hayashi’s anger had ignited not only the painting, but a memory from Tome’s teenage years as well. Deciding the time was right, Tome asked Rosie, “Do you know why I married your father?” (Yamamoto 18). Tome revealed that at the age of eighteen, she was in love with a boy from a wealthy family. The two met secretly because the boy’s parents disapproved of Tome’s family’s status. Tome soon became pregnant and the boy left for a more suitable match. Tome’s parents didn’t throw her out of the house, “but she could no longer project herself in any direction without refreshing in them the memory of her discretion,” (Yamamoto 18). Distraught over giving birth to a stillborn and rejected by her family, Tome created an ultimatum. Either she would commit suicide or move to America. Her Aunt Taka “hastingly” set up a marriage with Mr. Hayashi. Tome used the story to scare Rosie into obeying her soon to be revealed request. After the story, Tome got on her knees and said urgently, “Promise you will never marry!” (Yamamoto 19). All Rosie could think about was “the memory of Jesus’ hand, how it had touched her and where” (Yamamoto 19). Thoughts about Jesus show Tome could not control Rosie’s human nature.
In conclusion, human nature prevailed, withstanding intervention at every possible point of a serpent (temptation, curiosity, and sexual desires) encounter. Before Eve’s encounter with the serpent, God forbid eating from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil. Unable to resist temptation, her human nature comes through when she eats the forbidden fruit. In the middle of Tome’s conversation with Mr. Kuroda, Mr. Hayashi requested she help with the tomato picking. However, she stayed in the house, intrigued by Mr. Kuroda’s interest in haiku. Tome wanted Rosie to promise she would never marry after being kissed by Jesus. But Rosie thought about Jesus and not the consequences of falling in love at a young age as her mother tried to explain. Therefore, human nature is impossible to control, regardless of influences.