Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Chapter 4 : Panic Grass and Feverfew | Summary

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Summary

On August 18, 12 days after the bombing, Father Kleinsorge continues to suffer with fatigue, despite much rest. On August 20, Mrs. Nakamura loses a good portion of her hair. She is nauseated but has no cuts or burns, and her daughter is weak and tired. Mr. Tanimoto feels weak and feverish. Miss Sasaki is transported to the Red Cross Hospital where she is treated by Dr. Sasaki. She has suffered internal infection and compound fractures, and spot hemorrhages begin to appear on her skin, as is the case with other patients Dr. Sasaki treated. Dr. Fujii treats a few patients, noting a "curious syndrome of symptoms" in bombing victims.

The lingering illness in so many survivors sparks a rumor the bomb contained poison that would last for seven years. This aroused hatred toward America on the part of some. Meanwhile, Japanese physicists investigate the bomb site and are able to determine its center.

By the end of the first week of September, Father Kleinsorge is in bed with a fever, low white blood cell count, and anemia. Mrs. Nakamura and her daughter remain ill, although her other two children seem fine. Mr. Tanimoto suffers from fever and fatigue despite two months of rest. Such illness on the part of many victims puzzles the doctors and becomes known as "radiation disease." Dr. Sasaki and his colleagues theorize that radiation sickness occurs in three stages: 1) direct reaction: nausea, headaches, fever, diarrhea; 2) 15 days later: hair loss, diarrhea, fever; 3) 25 to 30 days later: blood disorders, bleeding gums, low white blood cell count, blood spots on skin, keloid tumors, and low resistance to infection.

A new government is established, and the city of Hiroshima begins the process of rebuilding. Dr. Fujii buys a new clinic and builds a strong practice, while entertaining the occupying forces. Miss Sasaki's fiancé never returns, and she enters into a deep depression. Father Kleinsorge comes to minister to her, and she converts to Catholicism but continues to deal with depression, the death of her family, constant pain, and nervousness. Mrs. Nakamura rents a new shack near her former home, plants a vegetable garden, repairs her rusty sewing machine, and sends the children to school. The Society of Jesus constructs a permanent building. Father Kleinsorge continues to struggle with fatigue, spending a month in the hospital. The Red Cross Hospital returns to normal within six months after the bombing. Dr. Sasaki gets married.

The six survivors share one sentiment—a spirit of community. The citizens of Hiroshima collectively make up their mind to move forward. Most appear indifferent toward the ethics of atomic weapons, accepting the A-bomb simply as a part of war.

Analysis

The "falling action" phase of the narrative occurs as the survivors resolve to deal with the ongoing impact of the bombing. The long-term effects of radiation sickness suffered by many survivors gradually become evident. Although the medical community's understanding of the effects of radiation grows over time, many aspects of the disease still puzzle physicians. The unknowns lead to rumors, including one that the Americans had dropped a poison that would sicken the Japanese for seven years. The confusion and misinformation leads to ill feelings toward the United States.

The keloid tumors, "deep layers of pink, rubbery scar tissue" that grew over the burns, prove symbolic of the way healing occurs throughout the city of Hiroshima. The physical keloid scars remain for years to come, and attempts to remove them prove futile, as they continually reappear. Likewise, both survivors and the city itself bear both literal and figurative scars of the bombing for years to come. For example, Dr. Sasaki "gradually ... began to take an interest in his own life again." Yet, despite gaining back some of the weight he lost, he never fully regains his appetite and feels "tired all the time." Similarly, the flash produced permanent shadow images on some buildings, such as one of a painter on a ladder, "a kind of bas-relief on the stone façade." This suggests the permanent imprint of the event on the minds and lives of the survivors, as well as on the city itself.

The survivors prove resilient in the face of overwhelming tragedy and, for some, faith plays a significant role. While Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge offer physical and spiritual comfort to the survivors, Miss Sasaki asks Father Kleinsorge the question commonly on the hearts and minds of those who are in the midst of suffering: "If your God is so good and kind, how can He let people suffer like this?" Father Kleinsorge patiently and compassionately explains. Later, Miss Sasaki "prepared herself for conversion to Catholicism." Her faith enables her to cope with depression and ongoing physical suffering, as well as the loss of family and her own dreams of marriage.

Hersey does not explicitly state an opinion on the ethics of atomic weaponry. However, he presents six different perspectives on the event and invites the reader to explore the ethical questions for themselves.

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