Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary|
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LITERARY ANALYSIS: HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY
After the atomic bomb kills 100,000 in Hiroshima, the six main characters
of the book wonder why they survived while so many others perished. They
reflect that it was small, unconscious, and seemingly coincidental actions
that spared their lives at the moment of impact. This is the minor theme
of how chance can be a powerful force in life. The theme is also reflected
in how many of the characters view the rest of their lives. They see their
suffering and hardships from the bomb’s destruction as unavoidable, nobody’s
fault, and their fate. They do not have a sense of entitlement nor do
they blame others for their problems. The theme of life’s unpredictability
is also reflected in how most of the main characters continue to suffer
misfortune, difficulties, and death even after surviving the bomb.
The mood of the book is very shocking and troubling. It is a literal
and uncensored account of the impact of the first atomic bomb to be dropped
on human beings. The graphic details of human suffering and the physical
effects of radiation and burns are deeply disturbing to the reader. Despite
the gruesome details, however, the mood is rather unemotional, since the
book is an objective and journalistic retelling of six survivors’ stories.
The characters all exhibit the classic Japanese stoicism, further adding
to the mood of stolid endurance and survival. The final outcome is varied
according to each character’s fate. Some outcomes are uplifting, inspirational,
and hopeful as the character overcomes extreme trauma to carve out a meaningful
life. Other outcomes are disappointing as the character fails to live
up to his or her full potential. These latter outcomes match the dark
mood characterizing most of the book, as it describes the bomb’s effects.
The author, John Hersey, was born in China on June 17, 1914 and spent the next 9 years there until his family returned to America. He worked as a journalist for several years after studying at Yale and Cambridge. During World War II, Hersey served as a Time magazine correspondent and later as a senior editor for Life. He was famous for his ability to discuss on an individual level the tragedies of war. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Bell for Adano, a novel portraying the Allied Forces’ occupation of Italy. His non-fictional writings on the war include Men on Batman (1942) and Into the Valley (1943), both about battles in the Pacific arena. “Hiroshima,” a factual account of atomic bomb survivors based on interviews, was published in 1946. His next major project after “Hiroshima” was a historical novel, The Wall, about the Nazi destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. The novel was critically acclaimed and is considered the first American-written novel dealing with the Holocaust.
His account of six survivors in Hiroshima was first published as an article in The New Yorker magazine in August of 1946, one year after the bomb was dropped and World War II ended. The New Yorker devoted that entire issue to “Hiroshima,” preempting any other articles or cartoons. The issue met with a tremendous response in the United States and sold out within hours. Numerous newspapers and magazines commented on Hersey’s article, and the full text was read on the radio in the U.S. and abroad. The Book of the Month Club even sent a free copy in book form to all its members. “Hiroshima” was published as a book later that same year.
A new edition was compiled forty years later, when Hersey returned to Japan to chronicle what had happened to the six main characters in that time. Hersey wrote his findings in a new final chapter, “The Aftermath,” and this edition was published in 1985. “Hiroshima” remains in print and is considered a classic of World War II storytelling.
Hersey died on March 24, 1993 at his home in Key West, Florida.
John Hersey Postage Stamp
In 2008, the U.S. Post Office honored Hersey with a commemorative stamp
issue in a series honoring American Journalists.
The book starts on August 6, 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on human beings, and ends in 1985, with updates on the lives of the six survivors chronicled in the book. When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and a few days later on Nagasaki, Japan had been at war with the United States for three and a half years. It was by then a losing fight for Japan, as resources and soldiers had been severely depleted and the civilian population was living on meager rations. The atomic bomb attacks were a final devastation to Japan’s war effort, and it surrendered unconditionally only nine days after Hiroshima’s destruction, on August 15, 1945.
For its part, the United States meant to use the atomic bomb as an extreme measure that would force Japan to give up its losing war. In World War II, Japan had waged a “total war,” in which civilians were as dedicated and indoctrinated to the national cause as were soldiers. Everyone had been taught that it was honorable to die for the Emperor, and families and communities were prepared to commit suicide rather than be taken as prisoners if the American forces were to invade. Faced with such stubborn resistance and wide-spread brainwashing, the U.S. leadership feared massive casualties on both sides if they were forced to wage a land war in Japan. To this day, the American government states this reason for its use of the atomic bomb on civilian populations.
After Japan surrendered, the U.S. set up an occupational government to purge
military leaders and rebuild the country. For these first few post-war
years, Americans were fascinated by their former enemies and very focused
on how they could transform and revitalize Japan. It was in this environment
that John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” debuted. The U.S. public was eager for
the information in this factual account of atomic bomb survivors.
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Wolff, Rachel. "TheBestNotes on Hiroshima".
. 09 May 2017