Obasan, by Joy Kogawa Essay
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Obasan, by Joy Kogawa Today, society has become a boisterous world of communication. From telephone conversations to live Internet chat and e-mail, the world has never before been quite so in touch. In the novel Obasan, by Joy Kogawa, Naomi Nakane does not have technology to communicate. Instead, she faces the dilemma of communicating at all. From her family, Naomi is shown the many faceted truths of speech and communication. From strong, silent Obasan, to stubborn, resolute Aunt Emily, Naomi finds that one can correspond with others through silence as well as through speech. As a child, Naomi spends much of her life in non-communicative silence, only to help further the distance between herself and her mother. As Naomi grows…show more content…
Unfortunately, for the quiet Naomi, Emily also believes that in order to be at peace with your past you must stand up and yell at those at fault for reconciliation. Emily shows that her beliefs remain contingent upon facts, and that everyone needs to be on the same page before healing can begin.
“’It matters to get the facts straight…Reconciliation can’t begin without mutual recognition of the facts,’ she said.
‘Facts?’ [said Naomi]
‘Yes, facts. What’s right is right. What’s wrong is wrong. Health starts somewhere.’” (Obasan 219)
Naomi cannot comprehend the angle with which her aunt approaches life.
While Naomi may believe reconciliation is in order, she is only discouraged when she looks to see where speech has placed her Aunt Emily. “If Aunt Emily with her billions of letters and articles and speeches, her tears and her rage, her friends and her committees—if all that couldn’t bring contentment, what was the point” (Obasan 50). Naomi becomes more and more frustrated when she sees the futile efforts of her Aunt. Albeit, she does believe that what her Aunt is doing is important for her Aunt, she cannot see the use if the results of such hard laborious tasks go for naught.
“All of Aunt Emily’s words, all her papers, the telegrams and petitions, are like scratchings in the barnyard, the evidence of much activity, scaly claws hard at work. But what good do they do, I do not know-those little black typewritten
Much symbolism enhances Kogawa’s provocative story, which recounts a belated coming-of-age and discovery. It is told mainly from Naomi’s point of view, and readers must piece together information about the fate of her mother as she and Stephen are belatedly forced to face it, largely at the prompting of their very vocal aunt, Emily. Though aggressive, Emily is also compassionate, concerned for the well-being of her immediate family and for all Japanese whose story she believes must be told repeatedly and insistently. The story describes how Naomi, reared by the “silent” pair Ayako and Isamu, becomes transformed into an informed and more assertive adult, ready to speak out.
In the narrative frame that opens and closes the book, Naomi is either eating or serving or contemplating Uncle Isamu’s “stone bread,” for which he has developed quite a reputation in the Japanese community. It is tough and hard, and Stephen does not like it, but at the same time it is nurturing. The stone bread symbolizes the hardships endured by the Japanese, as well as the community spirit that helps them stick together and buoy one another.
The first of the novel’s two epigraphs imparts to Isamu’s bread a religious significance. In a quote from the Bible, the bread becomes “the hidden manna,” which points to religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as a dominant theme in the book. Kogawa herself was reared a Christian, and her minister father is the model for Reverend Nakayama. Among the Christian rituals and symbols that she makes use of in the book are Easter and the Eucharist. Two childhood incidents involving Easter chicks are used to illustrate how helpless the yellow baby chicks (the Japanese Canadians) are when they are pecked to death by a white hen (the Canadian government). Fire is an ambiguous symbol that purges (the communal Japanese hot baths) but also destroys (the firestorm in Nagasaki which causes Nesan’s death).
The novel’s second epigraph, together with the title Obasan, reveals the most important theme of the novel: the struggle within Naomi between silence and speech. This epigraph, half a page long and very poetic, using delicate and reverent language, begins, “There is a...
(The entire section is 920 words.)