Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Chapter 5 : The Aftermath | Summary

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Summary

This chapter was written 40 years after the original work. Interviews with the six survivors describe how each fared in the years following the bombing.

Mrs. Nakamura, the tailor's widow, struggled to provide for herself and her children. She took in sewing and did light housekeeping for neighbors. Later, she peddled goods on the street, and then found factory work. Chronic fatigue, diarrhea, and pain plagued her, interfering with her ability to work without rest. Mrs. Nakamura was not alone. The "hibakusha," meaning "explosion-affected persons," shared these common symptoms and, as a result, were viewed as unreliable workers. Mrs. Nakamura remained passive in her perspective on the bombing, reflecting the Buddhist belief that "resignation leads to clear vision." Eventually her son was able to support her with his income from factory work, and she retired.

Dr. Sasaki served as junior surgeon at the Red Cross Hospital. He spent 10 years completing his doctoral dissertation and then set up a prosperous private clinic. He was plagued by memories of the bomb throughout his lifetime, but otherwise he focused on the present. With his colleagues, Dr. Sasaki learned about the medical effects of the bomb and treated many victims. In 1963 Dr. Sasaki nearly died of complications from lung cancer. This near-death experience reformed him, instilling a desire to spend more time with his family.

Father Kleinsorge suffered a lifelong struggle with radiation sickness, but he maintained a focus on ministering to others, including Miss Sasaki. He was hospitalized for months at a time throughout his life. In addition to fatigue he experienced infections and joint pain and had a persistent low white blood cell count. In 1948 he became priest of Misasa Church, where he baptized approximately 400 people and married 40 couples. He became a Japanese citizen, changing his name to Father Makoto Takakura. He died in 1977 with his beloved caregiver at his side.

By 1946 Miss Sasaki's spirits and pain level showed gradual improvement. Although her fiancé had abandoned her, she was reunited with her younger brother and sister, with whom she lived. As a result of Father Kleinsorge's ministry, Miss Sasaki converted to Catholicism. She took work as an orphanage attendant and then became a nursery school teacher. She spent 14 months in the hospital and underwent three surgeries and rehabilitation to help correct her limp. In 1957 she became a nun and director of a home for the elderly, a post she held for 20 years until she retired at the age of 55. She experienced the health problems typical of hibakusha throughout her lifetime.

After the war, Dr. Fujii entertained the occupying forces and lived primarily for his own happiness. He continued his medical practice, and in 1948 built a new clinic on the site of the original one. Unlike many other survivors, Dr. Fujii seemed to suffer no ill effects from the bomb. In 1956 he traveled to the United States, accompanying the "Hiroshima Maidens" (young girls disfigured by the bomb who were given the opportunity to receive plastic surgery in the United States). Upon his return to Japan, he built an American-style house. On New Year's Eve 1963, he slept at the new house and was poisoned by a gas heater. He lived most of the next 11 years in a vegetative state and then died.

Mr. Tanimoto gradually rebuilt his church, although funds were limited and supplies hard to obtain. He reconnected with his classmate from Emory University who was a pastor in New Jersey, and together they began fundraising in the United States. Mr. Tanimoto began to dedicate himself to peace efforts. He initiated the idea of a peace center in Hiroshima, but he did not collaborate with Japanese officials. Instead, he connected with American human rights activists, like Pearl Buck and Norman Cousins. He toured the United States, speaking and fundraising, although he ended up losing control of most of the funds to Cousins and the causes Cousins supported.

Upon Mr. Tanimoto's return to Japan in 1949, he requested governmental support for the peace center he proposed, but he was refused. He persevered and established the center that was linked to his church. However, his efforts were viewed with suspicion, and he drew criticism for his use of the funds he raised and his absences from the ministry for his trips to the United States. In 1954 he accompanied the Hiroshima Maidens to New York City for their surgery. He engaged in a speaking tour that included a television appearance on "This is Your Life," a popular show surprised the guest of honor by bringing in people who had been a part of the guest's past. A 1955 telegram from Tokyo to the U.S. Secretary of State identified Tanimoto as "a publicity seeker" who "may pursue a leftist line." Forty years after the bombing, Tanimoto's peace center operated from his home. He retired from the ministry in 1982.

Analysis

Written 40 years after the bombing, Chapter 5 follows up on each of the six survivors. Similar to the structure found in traditional fictional, this chapter provides some sense of resolution to the overall plot. However, unlike traditional fiction, the ending is not wrapped up neatly with all conflicts tidily resolved. The humanity of the characters is shown as they prove to be a blend of strengths and weaknesses, their lives a series of real struggles, some great, some small.

Mrs. Nakamura, poor throughout her life in part due to her ongoing struggle with radiation sickness, ends up being cared for by her son and receiving governmental assistance. Forty years after the bombing, she was finally able to find some degree of comfort. After becoming a Japanese citizen, Father Kleinsorge succumbed to the complications of radiation sickness he had suffered with for 40 years. Miss Sasaki endured much physical and emotional suffering, but she entered the convent and served as an honored rest home administrator for many years. Dr. Sasaki built a successful practice, but his own near-death experience from cancer caused him to rededicate himself to his family and humanitarian efforts. Dr. Fujii enjoyed many physical comforts due to his social and financial status, but his pursuit of pleasure ended in depression and, ultimately, in his death when he was poisoned by the heater in the lavish American-style home he had built for himself. Mr. Tanimoto's boundless energy and initiative continued to play out as he became consumed with raising money and awareness for peace efforts. However, his efforts were not viewed as completely altruistic by observers. Unlike the happy ending the reader might have hoped for, Mr. Tanimoto's tireless efforts toward peace went largely unrecognized by those in positions of power.

The social issues surrounding the bombing emerge in the aftermath. First, a bias existed toward the hibakusha, the label given to those who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. They were seen as unreliable workers, and therefore were often passed over for jobs, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty. In addition the issue of governmental assistance for the needy is raised, as medical and financial assistance did not become available to victims until years after the bombing.

In Hiroshima the reader is presented with information—all factual. But the facts have been presented in a narrative that allows readers to connect with the characters on some level and relate to their suffering. Through the stories of the six survivors, readers gain a sense of the common humanity of the victims of war, seeing them not as the faceless "enemy," but as mothers, ministers, office workers, and doctors, each having strengths and weaknesses, as well as hopes and dreams. The book closes with a description of Mr. Tanimoto that mirrors the lives of many readers: "He had a modest pension. ... He lived in a ... little house ... and ... ate too much."

However, Hersey leaves the reader with haunting questions about the morality of atomic warfare. Like the Japanese culture about which Hersey was writing, his questions are subtly and implicitly stated. He presents the ethical questions in two ways. First, interwoven throughout the final chapter, Hersey inserts key events indicating the progression of the world's development of nuclear weapons, decades after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For example, "On May 18, 1974, India conducted its first nuclear test." These "news items" include no exposition. He assumes the reader will understand his point—the horrors of Hiroshima could happen again, in another part of the world. In addition Hersey lets the narrative speak for itself, allowing readers to experience the impact of the first atomic bomb through the perspective of six very different individuals.

Although the final chapter serves as a form of resolution to the stories of the six survivors, the insertion of events detailing continued nuclear weapon development suggest rising action. In other words, Hersey implicitly suggests the story has not yet come to a close. In fact, just the opposite—the climax may be yet to come.

Hersey closes with a reference to the fading of the event from Mr. Tanimoto's memory: "His memory, like the world's, was getting spotty." In the recording of these six stories, Hersey attempts to ensure the world never forgets the horrors of Hiroshima.

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