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Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary

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HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY: FREE LITERARY ANALYSIS

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Mr. Tanimoto, too, became mysteriously sick a few weeks after the bomb fell. He rested for a total of two months, trying to eat as much as possible and also using herbs to control his high fever. A year after the bombing, Mr. Tanimoto felt pride in how he and his community had weathered the disaster, and described in a letter how several people he knew, when faced with certain death, chose to die for the Emperor.

Miss Sasaki continued to be moved from crowded hospital to crowded hospital, until she landed at the Red Cross Hospital back in Hiroshima. Shocked to witness the city’s devastation for the first time, she felt strange to see fresh vegetation covering burned out buildings and trees. The bomb had stimulated the underground organs of greenery, and the city was indeed covered in new plants, among them panic grass and feverfew. Miss Sasaki’s spirits fell and she wondered about her fiancée who neglected to come and see her. After several visits from Father Kleinsorge, Miss Sasaki decided to convert to Catholicism.

Dr. Sasaki was overworked, sleeping only six hours per night at the hospital, and had lost twenty pounds from his small frame. Medical equipment remained inadequate for six months, consisting entirely of small donations from other cities. After several months, he finally regained some semblance of normal life, even marrying in the spring. Dr. Fujii went to live in the summer house of a friend, but a flood destroyed the house and he was forced to flee. He soon heard of a clinic for sale in a suburb of Hiroshima, and rebuilt a successful practice.

The final chapter narrates the six main characters’ lives as “hibakusha,” or atom bomb victims, from one year after the bomb to forty years after the bomb. It also includes side narrations of how the larger Hiroshima community rebuilt itself and how it responded over time to being the first city to be attacked with a nuclear weapon. Mrs. Nakamura continued to suffer from a common version of long-term A-bomb sickness, involving weakness, exhaustion, problem digestion, and a feeling of doom. For this reason, she was never able to work for more than two or three days without requiring rest, and struggled at odd jobs to support her children.

After a few years, she found good work at a factory and was pleased that her children were developing normally, spared from common complications of bomb victims. Her core of cheerfulness sustained her and won her friends, and she gradually moved on from the trauma of the bombing. At age 55, Mrs. Nakamura retired from her factory job and gradually her life got easier. She was supported by her grown son, a pension from the factory, a war widow’s pension, and a living allowance for Hiroshima survivors that increased over the years. She spent time embroidering gifts and dancing in groups to Japanese folk music.


Dr. Sasaki spent the rest of his years trying to create distance from his horrible memories of the first few days after the bombing. He opened a private clinic in his father’s town, outside Hiroshima, where he faced few hibakusha patients. His practice grew through his hard work and ambition. When he traveled to Yokohama for training, he finally came face to face with his own vulnerabilities as an A-bomb survivor. Discovering a shadow in his left lung, doctors ended up removing the whole lung in surgery. Due to complications, Dr. Sasaki almost died. This experience changed his outlook on life and he resolved to treat his patients more compassionately and to spend more time with his wife and four children. Four decades after the bomb, Dr. Sasaki no longer feared Hiroshima. Only one in ten citizens was a hibakusha, and the city was swathed in neon lights. Dr. Sasaki’s only regret was that he had not been able to more carefully record the identities of all the Red Cross Hospital corpses so that they would not be wandering in the afterlife, upset at not being properly remembered.

Due to the combination of his radiation exposure and his tireless work ethic on behalf of others, Father Kleinsorge faced a difficult life of repeated hospital stays. Yet he refused to slow down except when his body would collapse. Father Kleinsorge was so committed to the Japanese people that after a few years he applied for Japanese citizenship, adopting the name Father Makoto Takakura.

After suffering various ailments in the 1950s, he was finally transferred to a small church in Mukaihara, the same town as Dr. Sasaki. A few years later he hired a new cook, Yoshiki-san, who finally became his nurse, housekeeper, and constant companion. Father Takakura’s health steadily declined, and numerous visitors came to thank him for his impact upon their life. In 1976, he fell on some ice and became bed-ridden. Yoshiki-san lovingly and loyally cared for him around the clock. The next year he fell into a coma and died, with Yoshiki-san by his side.

Miss Sasaki slowly raised her spirits by the first anniversary of the bombing, even as her fiancée rejected their engagement due to pressure from his family not to marry a hibakusha and cripple. She soon found work at an orphanage, and discovered her calling to care for young children. She transferred to another orphanage where she received formal childcare training and a university education. Miss Sasaki also underwent orthopedic surgeries and was finally able to walk fairly normally, albeit with continued pain.

In the mid-1950s, by Father Kleinsorge’s suggestion, she decided to become a nun, and discovered strength within herself that she believed came from having survived the A-bomb. She became Sister Dominique Sasaki, and because of her tenacity and talents she was put in charge of an old people’s home housing 70. From her experience in Hiroshima, she wanted the dying not to feel lonely in their time of departure. Over the years Sister Sasaki was honored for her work in the nuns’ order and she always strove to look to the future, not to the past.

Three years after the bomb, Dr. Fujii built another clinic on the site of his destroyed one. He was spared all radiation sickness and complications, and enjoyed a life of leisure, visiting the gaudy, neon entertainment district often, earning a reputation as a playboy.

In 1956, he traveled to New York with the so-called Hiroshima Maidens - young girls with facial burns from the bomb who had been chosen to receive free surgery in the U.S. - and enjoyed acting as interpreter and unofficial chaperone. By the early 1960s, however, it was apparent to his family that his happy-go-lucky spirit had turned to melancholy. His relationship with his wife was strained, over a new American-style house he insisted on building, among other things.

Over New Years eve, Dr. Fujii slept alone for the first time in his new house, and the next morning his family discovered him unconscious, poisoned by a gas leak from a stove. He remained in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

One year after the bomb, Rev. Tanimoto preached the Christian message to people who gathered at the nightly black market. But since he had no congregation to bring them into, he refocused his efforts into restoring his old church building and embarked on a speaking tour in the United States to raise support. On this trip, Rev. Tanimoto devised the idea of making Hiroshima a center for studying peace, and began submitting his proposal to magazines and influential people in the U.S. - all without the knowledge or consent of anyone else in Hiroshima.

Meanwhile, Rev. Tanimoto was unaware that back in Hiroshima, the government had designated the city as a Peace Memorial City and unveiled a park to commemorate it. His chief U.S. promoter was Norman Cousins, an editor who enthusiastically backed Rev. Tanimoto’s idea at first, but then pushed it aside in favor of his own plans. Yet Cousins continued to arrange for Rev. Tanimoto’s fundraising tours, now for a whole host of causes. When Rev. Tanimoto finally discussed his ideas with Hiroshima’s mayor and the prefectural governor, they rejected them.

Back in Japan, one of Rev. Tanimoto’s major projects was teaching Bible studies and finding vocational opportunities for the city’s young women with horrible keloid scars on their faces. He lobbied for plastic surgery for them, and finally was able to arrange for a few to be done in Tokyo. Later, he accompanied twenty-five girls to the U.S. for surgery by doctors who were donating their services.

Once in the U.S., Rev. Tanimoto was featured on the television show, “This is Your Life,” thinking it was a standard interview. The totally unprepared Rev. Tanimoto was confronted by various people from his past, and most unnerving, Captain Robert Lewis, copilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. After several years of working for peace, Rev. Tanimoto found himself out of the main stream of Hiroshima peace activities, overly controlled by Norman Cousins, and rejected by many of the people he had tried to help. Yet he maintained a compassionate heart, adopting an abandoned baby with his wife. As Rev. Tanimoto reached the age of seventy, he slowed down in his activities and fell into a mundane lifestyle.


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