Approximately, 17,000 Americans each year feel that the name they were given does not match their identity. The name a person is given is who they are, it is a way for the world to acknowledge them. At the start of World War II, the American government took a series of drastic measures aiming at Japanese Americans in the U.S., all Japanese Americans, no matter who they were, adults, women, or children, had been suspected spies. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps. This essay aims to study the comparison of the named and nameless characters in When the Emperor was Divine, through the analysis of their loss of identity. This analysis will also vividly show the suffering of the Japanese Americans during this time.
At first, the four main characters are all nameless but with the appellation---the father, the son, the daughter and the mother. Generally speaking, if authors want their writings to be understood easily, they always choose to set names for the characters, which also can avoid confusion. But in this novel, the author must mean to express a special meaning through the nameless main characters. On one hand, it is thought that the experiences of this nameless Japanese American family is not a single example but the epitome of what all Japanese American encountered at that time. Nearly 120,000 Japanese American were taken from their homes in the spring and early summer of 1942 and incarcerated in concentration camps by the United States government.(Roger Daniels, 3) On the other hand, what is more significant, the namelessness of the characters also indicates the loss of their identities. Because they are Japanese Ameican, they are different from the real American natives in their habits, world views and values.
They live in an environment with mixed American and Japanese cultures. Even they are
obsessed by their Japanese identities in American society. For example, when the mother and children come back from the interment camp, they find that everything is changed and their Japanese identities may cause trouble for them. So the children say like this:
We would change our names to sound more like theirs. And if our mother called out to us on the street by our real names we would turn away and pretend not to know her. We would never be mistaken for the enemy again! (Otsuka,114)
From what is above, we find although the children have their own Japanese names, but
they cannot use them because that may cause trouble for them. As to the relationship
between name and identity, Seeman argues: “Identity, though complex, can be encoded in a name.”(Seeman, 1 paragraph) In other words, the name is the most obvious symbol of the identity. Through this arrangement of the author, readers can realize the Japanese hardships in the U.S during World War II.
In the next section, the analysis of the named characters is given. It is interesting to
analyze the reason why so many unimportant characters in the novel have...