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Hiroshima | Study Guide

John Hersey

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Hiroshima | Summary



Chapter 1: A Noiseless Flash

Hiroshima provides a window into the lives of six individuals who lived through the bombing of the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. The book begins with descriptions of the ordinary tasks of these individuals as they began this historic day. Miss Toshiko Sasaki sits down to begin her work as a clerk in the personnel department of a tin plant. Dr. Masakazu Fujii, a physician and owner of a private hospital, settles on his porch to read the morning news. Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, widow of a tailor, watches a neighbor from her kitchen window as her children rest. Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest, reads a religious magazine. Dr. Terufumi Sasaki carries a specimen to the lab of the Red Cross Hospital. Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto transports a load of items he hopes to save from the B-29 bombings expected by citizens of Hiroshima.

And then—the flash.

The stories of these six offer a glimpse into what it is like to survive the impact of one of the most powerful weapons ever created. Mr. Tanimoto dives for cover and then runs into the street in a panic. Mrs. Nakamura, who was thrown across her house and buried in rubble, immediately begins a frantic search for her children. Dr. Fujii feels the hospital, which was his home, lurch toward the river, and he goes along with it. He lands in the water wedged between two large pieces of wood. Father Kleinsorge finds himself bleeding in the mission vegetable garden, but he has no recollection of how he got there. Dr. Sasaki feels his glasses fly off his face and his slippers fly out from under him, but he is unhurt. He immediately begins assisting the wounded. Miss Sasaki (no relation to Dr. Sasaki) loses consciousness as she is buried under the debris of the fallen factory, her leg severely twisted and broken.

Chapter 2: The Fire

In the aftermath of the bombing, Mr. Tanimoto's compassion, but also his guilt for surviving, propels him into frantic efforts to assist those less fortunate than he. Miss Sasaki, unable to move, is rescued from the rubble and then left to wait, unshielded from heat and rain for two days. Dr. Sasaki cares for the wounded, with barely a moment of rest. Dr. Fujii, unable to care for others due to his own injuries, walks to his family's home outside of the city. Father Kleinsorge does his best to help those who have made their way to a park that served as an evacuation area. Mrs. Nakamura gets her children to the evacuation area, but upon drinking the water, they all become terribly sick.

Chapter 3: Details Are Being Investigated

Dr. Sasaki works frantically to tend to the wounded in the hospital. Father Kleinsorge remains ill but tries to help where he can, even though his wounds do not seem to be healing. Mr. Tanimoto feels a sense of shame for having survived a blast and does his best to make amends for it by providing relief. Mrs. Nakamura tries her best to care for her children and regain a sense of normalcy. Dr. Fujii is home with a broken bone and many cuts and bruises, while Miss Sasaki is left to fend for herself with swelling and an infection in her leg. Japan eventually surrenders, but not until Nagasaki is also bombed, three days after Hiroshima.

Chapter 4: Panic Grass and Feverfew

Survivors continue to suffer from nausea, burns, fever, cuts, and broken bones. Later, they begin to experience the lasting effects of radiation, including tumors, hair loss, blood disorders, infection, scarring, and chronic fatigue. Hiroshima is gradually rebuilt, and survivors slowly rebuild their lives. The story of each survivor demonstrates the physical, emotional, and social impact of the bombing.

Chapter 5: Aftermath

The final chapter, written 40 years after the original version, provides an update, showing the long-term effects on each of the six individuals. Mrs. Nakamura continues to struggle with the effects of radiation sickness. As is the case with many survivors, she is viewed as an unreliable worker due to her weak condition, yet she perseveres to provide for herself and her children. Dr. Sasaki continues his medical studies, marries and has a family, and opens his own clinic. Father Kleinsorge suffers the effects of radiation sickness throughout his life but continues to minister, eventually becoming a Japanese citizen. Miss Sasaki suffers permanent damage to her leg and continues to experience the effects of radiation sickness. Father Kleinsorge continues to minister to Miss Sasaki, who not only converts to Catholicism but becomes a nun. Rejected by her fiancé, presumably due to her physical limitations, Miss Sasaki dedicates her life to serving others, first at an orphanage and later at a home for the elderly. Dr. Fujii builds a clinic and prospers financially. He accompanies the "Hiroshima Maidens" to the United States. These young women who had been disfigured by the bomb were treated at Mount Sinai Hospital. Dr. Fujii observes the surgeries, cares for the girls, and translates for them. Back in Japan, Dr. Fujii is poisoned by the fumes from a gas heater and lives 11 years in a vegetative state before he dies. Mr. Tanimoto continues his ministry, but with an increased emphasis on raising funds for peace efforts, particularly in the United States. However, when he returns to Japan, he finds himself without a clear role in his country's movement toward peace, and feels marginalized by those involved in such work.

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