Study Guide

Heart of a Samurai What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Margi Preus

What's Up With the Epigraph?

EPIGRAPH 1:

I have no parents; I make the heaven and earth my mother and father.
I have no home; I make awareness my dwelling.
I have no life and death; I make the tides of breathing my life and death.
—from the Samurai Creed

I have no parents; I make the heaven and earth my mother and father.
I have no home; I make awareness my dwelling.
I have no life and death; I make the tides of breathing my life and death.
—from the Samurai Creed
What's up with the epigraph?

How fitting. The Samurai Creed is exactly what is going on with Manjiro and his new life at sea. Notice all the negations: "I have no…" and the way to deal with those negations—through creation and invention: "I make…" The Creed isn't just about sucking it up and making do. It's about working with nature and body ("heaven and earth"; "awareness"; "tides of breathing")—combining the two into a whole—to forge a new future. Good thing Manjiro's a pro at being one with nature.

EPIGRAPH 2:

When meeting difficult situations, one should rush forward bravely and with joy. It is the crossing of a single barrier.
—from Hagakure: The Book of Samurai

If the Hagakure is Manjiro's personal guide to survival, then he does a really good job of following it. But why does this piece of advice work?

It asks the samurai to "rush forward bravely and with joy." It might seem like the "with joy" part is a toss-away phrase, but it's actually the key part to the whole sentence. Manjiro shows that meeting challenges "with joy" allows him to greet each situation with a positivity that his friends lack. They're all negative about what they see, whereas Manjiro's openness and joyful eagerness lets him learn English more quickly and strike up a strong rapport with Captain Whitfield. His attitude lets him make something out of the strange and new.

EPIGRAPH 3:

When one's own courage is fixed in his heart, and when his resolution is devoid of doubt, then when the time comes he will of necessity be able to choose the right move.
—from Hagakure: The Book of a Samurai

What gets Manjiro through his time in America? A strong sense of right and wrong. Because of this, he's able to think of creative solutions to ethical dilemmas. For example, should he fight his bully? Instead of fighting, Manjiro thinks of a challenge—horse racing—that takes any man-on-man combat out of the equation, yet still preserves the spirit of a challenge.

He also has the awareness and perspective to "choose the right move" when he sees his bully lying in a ditch, bloody and crying. He helps Tom out. That's what "courage […] fixed in the heart" does for you: Even bullies don't deter you from doing the right, compassionate thing.

EPIGRAPH 4:

It is good for young people to experience a good share of hardship or misfortune. A person whose spirit collapses in the face of misfortune is of no use.
—from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai

Things have been pretty good for Manjiro up until now. Yeah, he was lost at sea and stranded on a deserted island at the beginning of the book, but it didn't take long for him and his friends to be picked up.

Part 4 is another beast entirely, though, and things go badly pretty quickly. And they stay bad for a couple of years. Manjiro has a crazy tyrant of a captain to deal with, his baby brother from his adopted family dies, and he still hasn't gotten to Japan. Ugh.

Which is why this epigraph is so appropriate. Its message? Buck up, deal with things, and move on. Which is exactly what Manjiro does.

EPIGRAPH 5:

Have your whole heart bent on a single purpose.
—from Hagakure: The Book of a Samurai

What exactly is Manjiro's "single purpose"? Luckily, the subheading for Part 5 is "Home" (sometimes authors are into making things easy for us).

Manjiro's heading home, and by home, we mean Japan. So that's probably his "single purpose." But you can also interpret his purpose as the dream he states at the beginning of the book: to become a samurai. So how do you focus in becoming a samurai? By doing things in the way of the samurai—a.k.a. following the principles outlined in the Hagakure.

There's also all the idea that if you focus on your purpose, your fate will take care of itself, and in a good way. For Manjiro, this means not worrying what will happen once he gets home. Jail or some better fate? Doesn't matter. It's all about achieving that goal.

And lo and behold, what happens at the end? He becomes a samurai.

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