Literature Study GuidesObasanChapters 22 24 Summary

Obasan | Study Guide

Joy Kogawa

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Obasan | Chapters 22–24 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 22

Naomi is in the hospital after her near-drowning. She is plagued by nightmares that involve her father, who is still in a hospital in New Denver with Grandfather Nakane. She continually asks Stephen about their father, seeking reassurance that he won't die. Stephen comforts her, but says nothing about their mother.

While she is recuperating, Naomi reads books and recalls a board game called "The Yellow Peril." It is designed to show how "a few brave defenders" can withstand a great number of enemies, and it is clearly about white Canadians defending their homeland against anyone from Asia. This leads to two more memories of what Naomi calls the "death places." One especially hideous incident occurred only a week before when she and Stephen were on the way to school. A gang of six boys had grabbed a large white hen, slitting its throat to make it bleed and then torturing it mercilessly. Their motivation was simply: "Got to make it suffer." They head off to avoid being late for school, and arrive just as the classes are singing a patriotic anthem to Canada.

The second incident involved a kitten Naomi heard at the bottom of an outhouse pit. A white girl with white hair, someone who had always treated Naomi badly, accused Naomi of throwing the kitten into the pit and demanded that she retrieve it. Naomi refused, but the trapped kitten, the dying chicken, and an injured baby becomes part of her hospital dream, where a cruel British doctor does little to help them.

Chapter 23

Naomi comes home from the hospital to find that Nomura has returned to her daughter's house in town. News comes that Germany has surrendered, although the war itself is not yet over. Slocan and nearby Bayfarm, though, are flourishing. The relocated people have established a thriving community with businesses, shops, entertainment and recreation. There is even the luxury of a public bathhouse, where people go several times a week to bathe, relax, and swim in the rinsing pool.

Naomi recalls those times as among her favorites, except for one evening when she and Obasan went late to the bathhouse. They were the only ones there except for Nomura, who had regained her health; two children that Naomi knew, Reiko and Yuki; and two older women, perhaps their mothers. Naomi notices that the women do not speak to them, which is unusual in the social atmosphere of the bathhouse, and they seem to be looking at Naomi's family disapprovingly. Eventually they call their children away. Afterwards, Reiko tells Naomi she is no longer allowed to play with her because all of the Nakanes and Nomuras have TB, or tuberculosis. The disease, common wisdom says, comes from living in filth. She says that's why Naomi was in the hospital, and why Stephen limps. Naomi runs home and asks what TB is. Stephen ignores her, and her uncle says only that "for some people it is a shameful matter to be ill." But he goes on to say, "It is a matter of misfortune, not shame."

Chapter 24

In early autumn of 1945, a few months after the incident in the bathhouse, Naomi wakes to feel that something important has happened. She recalls that yesterday Stephen had come running back from town saying the war was over and "we" had won. He had immediately climbed to the roof and put up a national flag. Today's event is even more significant. Naomi enters the kitchen to find someone new in Nomura's bed: her father. Naomi and Stephen are overjoyed and for the first time in a long while Naomi feels safe, nestled in her father's arms. Their father takes one of Stephen's flutes and the two play a medley of songs, beginning with "The White Cliffs of Dover." For a time, contentment fills their small home.

Analysis

In some ways, Chapter 22 is one of the most disturbing in the book. It highlights not only the racism in Canada, but also the effects it has had on the country's children, both white and Japanese. Earlier in the book, the white chicken that pecked the chicks to death was used as a symbol for how the white Canadians, and particularly the government, destroyed the lives of Japanese citizens. In this chapter, the troupe of Japanese schoolboys respond in kind, capturing the white chicken and showing a chilling willingness to "make it suffer." With that act, they are consciously or unconsciously exacting revenge on the country that victimized them. The scene also demonstrates the fact that some of these children have been damaged both emotionally and morally, perhaps irreparably, by what they have been through. The singing of the patriotic anthem in the school therefore becomes a case of bitter situational irony, since in the minds of these boys, their "homeland" has become their enemy.

Similarly, the incident with the kitten shows the impact of racism on the white Canadian children, who have been nurtured with games like "The Yellow Peril." The white girl with white hair does everything she can to blame Naomi for the cat's situation, having almost certainly thrown the cat into the latrine herself in order to humiliate Naomi. Interestingly, the normally quiet Naomi refuses to accept the blame, although she does run home before the girl's actions become even uglier. Still, her nightmares are haunted by the innocent victim in this power play—the kitten.

Chapter 23 reveals two contrasting developments within the Japanese community itself. The town has flourished, showing that the underlying resilience and determination of the community has allowed it to triumph even in adversity. The difficulties, however, have taken their toll and created another enemy—the enemy within. Although the Japanese culture stresses kindness and support of others, the women Naomi encounters in the bathhouse apparently look for scapegoats within their own community on whom the can take out their anger. By accusing all of the Nakanes and Nomuras of having TB, and by implying that filthy living conditions contributed to it, the women have given themselves people they can feel superior to and persecute in their own subtle way.

The return of the children's father provides a joyful counterpoint to the ugliness that preceded it. With the return of Mark Nakane, love and a feeling of safety temporarily return to the house. So does music. But interestingly, Stephen and his father start their flute duet by playing "The White Cliffs of Dover," a song whose underlying meaning is that the British Commonwealth would overcome its enemies. Since Canada was once a British colony and still tied to Britain politically, the implication is that despite everything that has happened, both Mark and Stephen still identify as Canadian, with Stephen proudly proclaiming that "we" won the war.

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