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Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Chapter 2 : The Fire | Summary



Chapter 2 describes the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Mr. Tanimoto forgets his own fears and tends to the wounded. As fires burn, Mr. Tanimoto is the lone individual running toward the city. He hopes to find his wife and child, as well as his parishioners. Mrs. Nakamura rescues her children from the rubble, and then goes out into the street. Dazed and confused, she goes back into the house to gather clothing and coats. With a neighbor, she and the children make their way to Asano Park, the designated safe place for their neighborhood. Father Kleinsorge, also dazed and bewildered, helps his fellow priests, digs nearby survivors out of the debris, grabs a suitcase filled with mission money and diocese records, and makes his way to the park, rescuing some wounded along the way. Dr. Fujii, wedged in the crossed beams that had fallen into the river, realizes he would soon drown as the tide came in. He manages to free himself but is injured and in pain. Sixty-five of his fellow physicians in the city had died. Like Dr. Fujii, most of the surviving 85 doctors were wounded. Dr. Sasaki, one of the few uninjured physicians, worked "without method," binding the wounds of the injured who begged for his aid. Miss Sasaki, unconscious for three hours under the debris of the collapsed tin factory, awakes to searing pain in her twisted leg.

Father Kleinsorge continues to aid the wounded and rescue those buried beneath fallen buildings. Mr. Tanimoto encounters his wife and baby as they are exiting the city, but they do not embrace. Mr. Tanimoto works frantically to aid victims, ferrying them to safer locations and providing water, although it turns out to be tainted. Miss Sasaki is eventually rescued and propped in the courtyard under a make-shift lean-to with two other wounded individuals, where she is left. Dr. Fujii walks five miles to his family home outside the city. The fires push many toward the river where some drown.

Water, which should bring life and health, instead brings illness and death. Drinking contaminated water produces violent retching in the Nakamura family. Many drown in the river trying to escape the fires. Dr. Fujii fears for his life as the tide rises. Rain brings added misery rather than refreshment to the severely wounded Miss Sasaki who is rescued and then propped up in a lean-to. As houses burn, marble-sized drops of water fall from the sky. However, this is not refreshing rain, but "drops of condensed moisture falling from the ... tower of dust ... risen miles into the sky."


Much like the traditional plotline in fiction, this chapter shows how the "story problem" (or conflict) is further complicated. The dropping of the bomb proved to be only the beginning of the death, devastation, and destruction. As fires begin to rage, confusion, more death, pain, and terror reign, despite the altruism of many survivors. Cries for help come from the rubble, but fires prevent would-be rescuers from getting to the victims. Mr. Tanimoto's route takes him past an evacuation area, which "was now the scene of a gruesome review: rank on rank of the burned and bleeding." Father Kleinsorge finds himself wandering in the vegetable garden. Mr. Tanimoto, casting aside his fears, runs back into the city to find his family and parishioners, yet when he by chance encounters his wife and child, they merely acknowledge each other's well-being and continue on in opposite directions without even an embrace. Mrs. Nakamura "noticed her sewing machine; she went back in for it and dragged it out." Such actions reflect the horror, as well as the bewilderment and numbed emotional state experienced by the victims.

The survivors struggle to make sense of what they do not understand. "It must have been ... a self-scattering cluster of bombs," says a colleague of Dr. Fujii. This reflects the human tendency to gain some sense of order and control by identifying, understanding, or naming. Similarly, when drinking the water makes survivors retch, they attribute it to something within their background of experience, such as poison gas dropped by the enemy.

Japanese culture influences the feelings and actions of the survivors. Japan is sometimes referred to as a "culture of shame." Mrs. Nakamura, described in Chapter 1 as a rule-follower, continued to do as she was told, making her way to Asano Park with other survivors. To break rules in Japanese culture exposes one to public shame. Breaking rules of appearance can also result in shame: "In spite of the misery all around, [Dr. Fujii] was ashamed of his appearance."

Surviving in itself resulted in shame, as so many had not. Mr. Tanimoto "was overwhelmed by the shame of being unhurt," and this propelled him into superhuman rescue efforts. He prayed on the way and, feeling guilty, "he ... said to some of them, 'Excuse me for having no burden like yours.'" Similarly, many of the injured "had their heads bowed, looked straight ahead, were silent, and showed no expression whatever." Such responses also reflect the traditional Japanese value of the community over the individual. This is remarkably shown in the wounded raising themselves and bowing in thanks to Father Kleinsorge as he offered them a drink.

Asano Park represents "a place of refuge," an oasis of safety and community in contrast to the "sheet of fire" across the river and the "clouded air [that] was giving off a thick, dreadful miasma." The park is green in color, which suggests life and health in the midst of suffering, death, and devastation.

Hersey notes the silence in the aftermath of the bombing, the antithesis of the noise expected in the wake of such massive destruction. Mr. Tanimoto wonders "how such extensive damage could have been dealt out of a silent sky." Father Kleinsorge finds "silence ... one of the most dreadful and awesome phenomena of his whole experience."

Overall, human nature at its best and worst emerges in the aftermath of the bombing. Disaster often brings out the best and worst in the human spirit, and Hiroshima is no exception. The likes of Father Kleinsorge, Dr. Sasaki, and Mr. Tanimoto go beyond human expectation to help others. Dr. Fujii, a hedonistic individual, seeks primarily to save himself and tend to his own needs. Miss Sasaki is the recipient of both compassion and abandonment as she is rescued but then left to suffer.

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