Free Study Guide: Hiroshima by John Hersey - Notes / Book Summary|
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LITERARY CRITICISM: HIROSHIMA BY JOHN HERSEY - BOOK SUMMARY
Mr. Tanimoto, too, became mysteriously sick a few weeks after the bomb fell. A nurse diagnosed him with mild radiation disease and prescribed injections of vitamin B1. He rested for a total of two months, trying to eat as much as possible and using herbs to control his high fever. When he returned to Hiroshima, he set up a tent for worship. He became friends with Father Kleinsorge but envied the Jesuits for their material resources. A year after the bombing, Mr. Tanimoto felt pride in how he and his community had weathered the disaster, and wrote to an American friend about the bravery of many who died. He described how several people he knew, when faced with certain death, chose to honor the Emperor and 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 see the city’s devastation for the first time, she found the fresh vegetation covering burned out buildings and trees very strange. The bomb had stimulated the underground organs of greenery, and the city was indeed covered in new plants, among them panic grass and feverfew. Dr. Sasaki became her doctor at the Red Cross Hospital, and focused on nourishing her and lowering her fever, since he had no equipment with which to put her leg in a cast. At the end of October, he made several incisions in her leg to drain the pus. Meanwhile, Miss Sasaki’s spirits fell and she wondered about her fiancée who neglected to come and see her. After some visits from Father Kleinsorge, Miss Sasaki became open to the Catholic faith, and by summer decided to convert. She found hope in her budding faith and she improved physically.
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. Dr. Sasaki’s appetite stayed low but he regained some semblance of normal life, even marrying in March.
Dr. Fujii went to live in the summerhouse of a friend, which lay on
the banks of the Ota River. His injuries improved and he even found the
strength to treat the basic wounds of other survivors living nearby. He
encountered bad luck, however, when a flood carried off that summerhouse
and he was forced to flee up the mountain to a peasant’s home. Other Hiroshima
survivors and doctors researching their strange symptoms drowned in this
flood. Dr. Fujii stayed with the peasant for a few days, until he heard
of a clinic for sale in a suburb of Hiroshima. He rebuilt a successful
practice and enjoyed entertaining members of the U.S. occupational forces in the evenings.
The strange title for this chapter, “Panic Grass and Feverfew,” is derived from two of the many types of plants that spring up to cover Hiroshima’s ruins soon after the bombing. The bomb stimulated the underground organs of vegetation, and within a month of the disaster, fresh greenery covers fallen buildings, ruined houses, and even charred trees. Miss Sasaki sees this phenomenon and understandably gets a strange feeling. The juxtaposition of new life, even plant life, with dead buildings and human ashes is striking and eerie. However, it symbolizes how life must go on for the survivors of Hiroshima, and how they, too, quickly return to living even after so much is destroyed. The chapter title is also a play-on-words with the symptoms of radiation sickness that most of the main characters are experiencing. A high fever is one of the most common symptoms suffered by Hiroshima survivors, and some of the characters experience mild panic when faced with the financial hardships, physical limitations, and lack of accurate information that plague their post-bomb lives.
This chapter depicts the main characters facing the hard task of finally rebuilding their lives, after the initial devastation is behind them. In the year following their personal and community catastrophe, each continues to be affected by the bombing, some more seriously than others. Perhaps the most well off, financially and physically, is Dr. Fujii. Yet even he meets further misfortune. This reminds the reader that simply because they survive such a monumental trauma does not mean that the characters are blessed with easy lives afterward. Life continues as it would have otherwise, involving both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances.
Dr. Fujii’s misfortune is that he is flooded out of the home he was staying in as a guest. The house lands in the river and is washed away. This is ironic since he lost his private clinic when it, also, landed in a river from the impact of the atomic bomb. Also, in this same tragic flood, numerous bomb patients and doctors researching their problems were drowned. By pointing out this fact, Hersey is emphasizing the point that life holds no special graces even for courageous survivors; it continues to be a trying experience.
This chapter begins to mention the city’s thoughts on the ethics of the bomb,
which the author narrates more fully in the final chapter. Many in Hiroshima
are neutral in their moral judgment about the use of the atomic bomb.
Along with their indifference, they also hesitate to think about it very
much at all. The author speculates that this may be due to their fear
of and trauma from the bomb; they prefer to forget their ordeal altogether.
The reason may also have come from the Japanese psyche of being resigned
to hardships, expressed as “shikataga nai,” or “oh well, it can’t be helped.”
This originates from the Buddhist belief that emptying oneself of worldly
thoughts, both good and bad, leads to understanding and contentment. Some
people, however, harbor a deep hatred for America for what it has done.
Dr. Sasaki is one character who expresses anger at the Americans. However,
the indifference on the part of most of the main characters and Hiroshima
as a whole is a significant cultural element in the book.
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Wolff, Rachel. "TheBestNotes on Hiroshima".
. 09 May 2017