Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Themes

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Themes


The family is stressed in Ford's novel. Many families take form in the novel all differing in style. Keiko's family is contrasted with Henry's. Henry's family is very traditionalist and holds value at a higher place than family. Keiko's family values family above all else.

Other families emerge, Henry is grafted into Keiko's family and forms several families of his own. Families either make or break characters throughout the novel. In the war period, division and war are found in each family as they grow and change.


Patriotism is explored widely throughout the novel. Taking place in the context of the Pacific War, patriotism is not only stressed but expected. While many expect patriotism to be present in this time, Ford begs the question of what patriotism is.

Often being equated with prejudice, nationalism, blind allegiance, ignorance, and hate Ford argues that the true patriots are the Japanese-Americans in this novel. Keiko teaches Henry the lesson of patriotism. Keiko articulates that she is not Japanese, she is American. The Okabe family, like most of the Japanese American families, are more than happy to stay in the internment camps designed ostensibly for their own safety. Whereas many equate patriotism with nationalism and blind allegiance in the novel, Mr. Okabe teaches that patriotism is loyalty.


Contrasted with the theme of patriotism in the novel, nationalist tendencies abound in the novel. Chaz Preston and many others have homogenous tendencies to equate American with white.

The vandalism that occurs in Nihonmachi is symbolic of the deeply rooted nationalist tendencies during the wartime. Henry notes that even the comic books at the time display nationalist tendencies. Even Henry's father, Mr. Lee, displays deep nationalist mindsets for China.

The Power of Music

Sheldon and his saxophone represent the power of music to bring cultures together. Henry notes that the jazz music often floated all around, being heard in all neighborhoods. At the jazz club, many populations can be seen all enjoying the soft sounds of the music. Keeping in line with the culture of Seattle, Ford includes the Jazz scene that bloomed during this time.

The Presence of Cultural Barriers

The neighborhoods and the many physical barriers are reflective of the invisible, yet strong, cultural barriers that separate many cultures form interacting. While at Rainer Elementary, Henry and Keiko encounter mass discrimination due to the fact that many at Rainer have never encountered a Chinese or a Japanese student.

These barriers prevent harmony. Other barriers, like the fence that separates Keiko and Henry at the internment camp, represent the separation that culture imposes on groups that seek harmony.

Coming of Age

Ford's utilization of alternating narratives from different time periods uniquely presents a coming of age story. Young Henry is molded into older Henry before our eyes. Henry learns the lessons of the divided America which helps bring unity into his own life.


Love is presented as the great conqueror in the novel. Different characters embody love: Henry and Keiko; Marty and Samantha, Henry and Ethel, Henry and his Family, Keiko and her family. Love is shown as central to all solutions to all conflicts in the novel

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