Eimi Yamada’s story, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” is not one that is about sex or love, but rather about a woman’s awakening of self. On the surface, the story is about a woman who meets a younger man on a trip to Florida. She is telling the story throughout, so the reader only gets her point of view. At first, the man, Willy, who approaches her and within an hour, says he loves her, repulses her. He is black with a diamond earring and she does think about the age difference when she thinks “ . . . but I was neither so young that I’d fall for this type of man nor so old that I’d want to take care of him” (Yamada 70). Yamada is referring to the stereotype of an older, lonely and wealthy woman who wants a younger man and a naïve woman who’d believe anything he says all in the same sentence. I have chosen sexuality and age is the two identities that are separate and that intersect for this paper, although gender plays a major role in how Willy treats the woman.
The woman at the beginning of the story is frustrated because Willy won’t have sex with her. She says she yearns for him but he keeps remanding her to work on her painting and holds it over her head as a reward for sex. While she has made it clear from the above quote that she won’t fall for a man like this, he has taken on the role of a parent. At one point, he tells her “ . . . a woman who doesn’t understand what she is supposed to do is not my type” (Yamada 69). She acknowledges this is unchartered territory as she’s a find herself begging a younger man to make love to her and being refused.
My interpretation of this first awakening is that she finds herself in a new situation and has to figure out what it means. Why has this man she barely knows traveled from Florida to New York to give her a Christmas card? Yamada uses this story line as a guise for what is really starting to happen: the woman is beginning to discover new things about herself through her sexuality.
Willy treats her like a child and that is how age comes into play in the story. He cooks breakfast for her and even puts ketchup on her potatoes, as if she can’t do it herself. He tells her what to do without regard for the fact that she’s an accomplished woman. He tells her to break of her relationship with Mike so she can concentrate on her work. Willy’s very presence in New York brings out her insecurities as an artist. At one point Willy says to her, “You can’t paint. Is that right?” (Yamada 75). This is like a parent trying reverse psychology on a child by telling her the opposite of something to accomplish what they really want.
I interpreted the character of Willy as the woman’s awakening of who she really is through the guise of her sexual desires. Willy questions her ability to paint and holds sex over her head, yet she continues to go back to the canvas as though it’s a challenge. Her boyfriend Mike also challenges Willy yet the woman does nothing to stop this and instead, sees her relationship with Mike for what it is. Willy brought this about. Willy tells her throughout that he loves her, but he’s just the messenger who is there to help her discover herself. When he leaves, the painting is done. If Willy hadn’t visited, she’d still doubt herself, her talent, her sexuality and her relationship with Mike.
- Yamada, Eimi. “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Unmapped Territories: New Women’s Fiction from Japan, 1991, pp. 69-83. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.