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Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Main Ideas



Hersey is highly regarded for his ability to use words to give readers a window into the realities of war. First, war affects not just governmental structures and military personnel, but also family structures and the lives of ordinary people. By following the lives of six ordinary individuals affected by the Hiroshima bomb, the reader sees how families are separated, loved ones lost, and children orphaned. The reader gains perspective on the physical pain and emotional turmoil experienced by victims of war. In addition, war can have a lifelong impact on individuals. Physical ailments persist over a lifetime. Memories and fears linger. Loss of health and well-being plunge families into depression and poverty.

Hersey also explores the beginnings of the peace movement, including the antinuclear movement. Although some Japanese citizens initially resented Americans for the use of such a horrific weapon, many later viewed the atomic bomb as merely a tool in the larger context of a war of aggression. War itself was viewed as the larger moral issue. However, given the horrors of radiation burns and the lasting impact of radiation sickness, antinuclear activists decry the use of nuclear weapons as cruel and inhumane.

Human Compassion

The six survivors' stories illustrate the spirit of human compassion. Mr. Tanimoto frantically engages in rescue efforts, exhibiting superhuman energy in the face of overwhelming odds. For example, having no oars with which to row his boat, he self-propels the craft, ferrying victims to safer ground. Mrs. Nakamura's first instinct is to care for her children, rather than for herself. Her compassion drives her to rescue her children and provide for them, even though she continues to suffer the effects of radiation sickness. Father Kleinsorge ministers to victims' spiritual and physical needs, giving little thought to his own ailing health. Dr. Sasaki binds the wounds of survivors for three days straight with no rest. Miss Sasaki is rescued but then left without care, experiencing a dearth of human compassion. It is not surprising she struggles with depression in the aftermath of the bombing. However, thanks to the compassion of Father Kleinsorge, she dedicates herself to a life of showing compassion to others through her work as a nun.


The survivors demonstrate a resolve to persevere. They do not dwell on the past, but accept it and look toward the future. As Miss Sasaki says, "I shall not dwell on the past ... I shall keep moving forward." Japanese culture is infused with the tenets of Buddhism. One such tenet, that of Prajñā, states that wisdom and clear-thinking stem from a calm mind. An attitude of calm acceptance can be seen in the victims. For example, Mrs. Nakamura says of the use of the atomic bomb, "It was war and we had to expect it. ... It can't be helped. Oh, well." Mr. Tanimoto urged people to let go of their anger and not worry about where to direct it. Rather, he urged them to turn to God.

The final chapter—a follow-up on each of the survivors 40 years after the bombing—shows how these six individuals moved forward despite persistent hardships, such as ill health, loss of home, and loss of wealth. Likewise, the city of Hiroshima demonstrates the resolve of its citizens. The city was gradually rebuilt and 40 years later continues to thrive.

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