Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary|
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FREE BOOKNOTES / CHAPTER SUMMARY: HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY
Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a thirty-eight year-old missionary priest, was suffering from painful diarrhea that morning. He had been generally undernourished in wartime Japan, and felt weary from the xenophobia he suffered as a German. He conducted mass at six thirty that day with only a few in attendance, and sat at breakfast with the other priests until they heard the all clear at eight o’clock. Father Kleinsorge looked to see a single weather plane flying overhead, as was customary, and felt relieved. He retired to his room and started reading in his underwear. When he saw the flash, he thought a bomb had fallen directly on him and he panicked. Somehow, he ended up in the vegetable garden, pacing aimlessly and bleeding from small cuts.
Dr. Terufumi Sasaki was an idealistic, young surgeon working at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. He lived with his mother two hours from the city and was treating the sick in that small town without a permit. The previous night, he had had a nightmare about being arrested for illegally treating patients, and it haunted him as he began his work at the hospital that morning. He arrived at the hospital at seven forty-five, and drew blood to be tested. He was bringing the blood specimen to the laboratory as the bomb flashed. Because he had moved one step beyond the window and had bent down at impact, he was unhurt. In the chaotic aftermath, he began to treat the wounded as the only uninjured doctor at the hospital. Soon, thousands of victims from all over the city would descend on him, demanding help.
Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto was a hard-working and thoughtful pastor who
was focused on sparing his church’s belongings from the massive B-29 raid
that everyone feared was imminent. A friend had helped him move the heavier
items, and in return, he was to assist his friend in hauling a daughter’s
dresser that morning. Mr. Tanimoto had studied theology in Atlanta and
had corresponded with American friends until the war broke out. This aroused
police suspicion, so to compensate he had volunteered to plan air-raid
defenses as head of his neighborhood association. He was thus overworked
and tired that morning. The bomb hit when he and his friend arrived at
their destination. Pieces of the collapsed house fell on him, but he was
largely unhurt. He assumed a bomb had fallen directly on the house.
This first chapter introduces the six main characters of the book. Hersey carefully details their precise locations and actions at the time the bomb flashed. This paints a vivid picture for the reader, and emphasizes Hersey’s point that it was the small, unconscious actions that spared each from death or more serious injury. The reader thus shares the characters’ feelings of mystery that they survived while 100,000 others perished.
In this chapter, Hersey impresses upon the reader how quickly everything changed when the atomic bomb hit. Unlike a conventional air raid, there was no warning and no time to take cover. In one instant, an entire city switched from common, every-day tasks to a panicked struggle for survival. Neither the characters’ lives nor their surroundings would be normal for a very long time.
Although the entire work is factual, Hersey emphasizes certain points of his
interviewee’s stories for story-telling effect. For instance, it is ironic
that Miss Sasaki had spent time planning a funeral at work that morning.
The funeral, scheduled for ten
a.m., would not only never take place but would be utterly forgotten in the flood of deaths from the bomb that was about to be dropped. Another irony Hersey notes is that while the dropping of the bomb over Hiroshima signified a technological breakthrough into the “atomic age,” Miss Suzuki was actually crushed and wounded by books, fairly primitive objects compared to this brand new weapon. A third irony is that a number of the characters remembers feeling relief at the all-clear signal that sounded at eight o’clock that morning. Just fifteen minutes later, a completely unfamiliar type of bomb was dropped on them. Hersey is showing the reader just how unexpected and undetectable the nuclear attack was for the citizens of Hiroshima.
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Wolff, Rachel. "TheBestNotes on Hiroshima".
. 09 May 2017