Silence, Memory, Conflict: How Obasan Relates To Asian American Literature

2388 words - 10 pages

Obasan is a novel written by Japanese Canadian author Joy Kogawa that was first published in 1981. Although it is a fictional story, Obasan is heavily influenced by the real life events of Kogawa who was born in Vancouver in 1935 and was, along with her family, interned and persecuted during World War Two. Obasan chronicles the life of a Canadian Japanese family during World War Two from the perspective of Naomi, who was a third generation, little girl at the time of the events. The story uses a framing method of a thirty-six year old Naomi who is mourning her loss of her uncle and in the process begins to reminisce on her life as a young girl. Although Naomi is the narrator of the novel, her character remains somewhat mysterious. As a child, she is a silent little girl that goes through a number of seriously traumatic experiences. Therefore, to function as an adult she has to suppress her past and her emotions. The novel as a whole is paced very slowly often donating full chapters to a specific memory Naomi has as a child. However, Naomi was never in an internment camp, and since she was a young girl at the time some of her family was interned, there is little description about life in an internment camp and the hardships endured in the novel. Obasan, instead, trades action for developing multi-layered characters. The characters in Obasan are often complex and represents different facets of Japanese Canadian life. The characters often deal with the experience of being Japanese Canadian in different ways and provide different responses to common issues. As previously stated, Obasan does not actually go into detail about the hardships of living in internment camp, instead it uses this as a backdrop to explore the obstacles Naomi and her family faces as she comes of age. These experiences are relived through Naomi’s memories that are often triggered by her Aunt Emily photo albums and letters. The hardships faced by Naomi and the rest of the characters are examined throughout the novel, portraying the themes of silence, memory, and cultural conflict.
The novel Obasan has an overarching theme of silence. Despite all of the mistreatment that each of the characters experience, they choose to suffer through the tough times in silence. Throughout the novel, the family suffered from pains of loss mostly because of the war. They are forced to evacuate their home because of the Japanese internment during World War Two, and Naomi and Stephan lose their mother, farther, and uncle as well because of the war. They eventually have to suffer the loss of their grandparents. One can argue that in addition to family members, Naomi and Stephen lost their childhood since they were forced to grow up quicker than most children due to the circumstances surrounding their family because of the war. Another example of loss in the novel occurs when Naomi loses her doll. This point in the novel that Naomi begins to realize that life will likely never be the way it was before...

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