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Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Chapter 3 : Details Are Being Investigated | Summary



In Chapter 3 rescue efforts continue, and rumors about the bomb begin to surface. About 12 hours after the explosion the Japanese navy promised help was on the way. The people were encouraged, and the news provided hope; however, the navy men did not return.

Mrs. Nakamura settles her children into their bedding for the night. Father Kleinsorge lies down, says his prayers and falls asleep, only to be awakened by a woman who wants to talk with him. Father Kleinsorge had sent a theology student to get help at the Jesuit Novitiate three miles outside of Hiroshima. Priests arrive with litters to carry Father Schiffer and Father LaSalle. Mr. Tanimoto continues to ferry victims, and Father Kleinsorge continues to offer aid wherever he can, despite his exhaustion. Mr. Tanimoto continues to feel shame for having survived the blast. Dr. Fujii rests at his family's home with a broken clavicle and many cuts and bruises. Dr. Sasaki continues his work by candlelight, binding the wounds of some of the 10,000 victims brought to the Red Cross Hospital, but no one is available to remove the corpses. Miss Sasaki's leg swells with infection as she is left for two days and nights without help, food, or water. Friends stop by to tell her of the likely death of her parents and baby brother and then leave her. She is finally picked up and transported to a relief station and then a military hospital. She receives no sympathy, but due to her high fever, she does receive some care. Dr. Sasaki works for three days with no sleep. Father Kleinsorge, fatigued and with cuts that should have healed in a few days but did not, continues his work.

On August 9 a second atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, but several days pass before those in Hiroshima hear the news. Father Kleinsorge sends someone to check on Dr. Fujii. The doctor shows off his bruises and offers the visitor whiskey. He shares the rumor he has heard—the bomb contained magnesium powder that ignited when it landed on live wires; therefore, only cities were at risk.

A woman asks Mr. Tanimoto to see her dying father. The man had earlier accused the minister of being an American spy and treated him cruelly, deriding Christianity. He expected treatment for his wounds because of his money and status, but no one treated him. Mr. Tanimoto ministered to him by reading a Psalm as the man took his last breath.

Miss Sasaki—still fighting a terrible infection—is moved again due to a lack of room at the military hospital. Father Cieslik looks for and finds the mother of the Kataoka children. Meanwhile, a rumor that the bomb had something to do with an atom splitting in two begins to circulate along with other possible explanations. Dr. Sasaki begins to establish some order at the Red Cross Hospital—patients are classified and corpses removed. Finally, Emperor Tenno announces Japan's surrender. The Japanese are honored their emperor took time to speak directly to them.


The horrors of the bombing continue to unfold in this chapter. The picture that emerges from the vivid detail is one that begs the question: "Are these victims human?" Mr. Tanimoto reaches down to rescue a woman by the hand, but "her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces." Mr. Tanimoto is repulsed by the grotesqueness of the people he is helping and has "to keep consciously repeating to himself, 'These are human beings.'" Descriptive phrases like, "Their backs and breasts were clammy;" burns that appeared "yellow at first, then red and swollen, with the skin sloughed off, and finally ... suppurated and smelly;" and "slimy living bodies" help the reader see, feel, and almost smell the suffering. Just as Mr. Tanimoto must continually remind himself he is dealing with human beings, so is the reader compelled to realize the dropping of the atomic bomb affected humans much like themselves. The ethical question of atomic warfare is unstated, but it emerges through the details of the narrative.

Theories about the bomb begin to surface, but details are sketchy. People who have no concept of atomic weapons try to construct explanations from their own limited background of experience, and they miss the historical significance of being the first victims of atomic weaponry. Some theorize it was "gasoline sprinkled from an airplane ... or some combustible gas, or a big cluster of incendiaries." However, the announcement on Japanese radio saying, "It is believed that a new type of bomb was used," is lost amidst the people's limited understanding and horrific suffering. When a second bomb is dropped on Nagasaki, the people are still too consumed with addressing their immediate needs to note its significance.

The role of faith in the healing process begins to emerge as Mr. Tanimoto ministers to an atheist who had ridiculed him in the past, but who now comes to him for hope as he lays on his deathbed.

The long-term effects of radiation sickness are hinted at in this chapter. The Nakamura family experiences persistent nausea. Father Kleinsorge has cuts that should heal, but do not. Miss Sasaki battles infection and fever.

Japanese culture influences the people's reaction to hearing their emperor announce, "We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure." First, this is seen as a great sacrifice on the part of their leader. Sacrifice for the greater good is highly valued, and the people respond collectively with this message: "We are thoroughly satisfied in such a great sacrifice." Second, the respect given to the emperor is reflective of Japan as a "vertical society," one in which status is very important—those of higher social rank are respected regardless of whether or not they have earned the respect through their character or actions. In this case, the emperor is afforded respect due to his position. His abilities as a leader go unquestioned by the people. Furthermore, Japanese culture views perseverance as the means to resolving challenges. The people, although disappointed in their country's defeat, "followed after their Emperor's commandment in calm spirit, making whole-hearted sacrifice for ... everlasting peace." The Japanese viewed the events leading to surrender as the necessary path for the greater good, so they accepted their lot and moved forward. In Japanese culture the greater good is considered more important than individual happiness and well-being.

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