Symbolism In Julie Otsuka's When The Emperor Was Divine

1198 Words5 Pages

“They would pin their identification numbers to their collars and grab their suitcases and climb up onto the bus and go to wherever it was they had to go.” This quote found on page 22 in Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor Was Divine directly describes the harsh reality that Japanese-Americans faced after the Pearl Harbor attack on the seventh of December in 1941. Their lives immediately changed when the government of the United States forced them to leave their lives behind to enter internment camps as a punishment for crimes they never committed. They wore identification numbers which dehumanized them and stole their identity as Americans. Throughout the novel When the Emperor was Divine, Otsuka uses the reoccurring appearance of the …show more content…

Not named throughout the novel, the white dog represents the innocent Japanese-Americans post Pearl Harbor. Specifically, it addresses the difficult choices that they had to make. They had to decide what they wanted to do with all of their most prized possessions such as their home, items passed through their families for years, and even their pets. During the scene, the woman introduced as the mother kills the innocent aging pet dog with one hard hit from a shovel. This parallels how the United States government hit the completely innocent Japanese-Americans with accusations of crimes, specifically espionage, that they did not commit. In the abstract of an interview conducted by Josephine Park, a professor of English and the Director of Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Park confirms this innocence when she states, “not a single Japanese or Japanese-American in this country was ever found guilty of committing an act of sabotage or espionage” (Park para 1). In addition to the prior parallel, in the scene the woman says to the dog , “You’ve been a good white dog…hush…roll over…play dead” (Otsuka 11). Her commands parallel and symbolize how the United States government accused Japanese-Americans and treated them. The government told them that they were good people, but they needed to hush about what was going on. They told …show more content…

This occurred when the girl and her brother arrive at the internment camp. Otsuka states, “Together they stepped out of the bus and into the blinding white glare of the desert” (Otsuka 48). In this scene, the white glare of the desert blinds them and disorients them as they step into the arid West. This disorientation is not only physical, but also mental. They boy and his sister, along with the rest of Japanese-Americans had no idea where they were going. More specifically, they did not understand why due to their innocence. This not understanding represents the naiveté, otherwise known as the lack of wisdom that the Japanese-Americans possessed in regards to their situation. When one is naïve in a situation where they are being perceived as the enemy when they are not, their innocence becomes even more evident. In Park’s interview, Otsuka states, “At the far end of this process [internment], the members of this family lose their roles: they are all reduced to the single role of the enemy” (Park para 2). This describes the experience that the United States government put Japanese-Americans through. When one is reduced to being the enemy when they are not, their naiveté brings upon them a certain innocence. In summary, Otsuka uses the white glare of the desert to represent how the United States government pushed its

Open Document