The Color White In When The Emperor Was Divine

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Every day people risk their lives immigrating to America in pursuit of opportunity, equality, and prosperity. Yet this “American Dream” remains but a dream for many. Non-white immigrants in America are discriminated against, ignored, and often not considered a “true” American. These racial injustices took root long ago, yet are very much alive today. Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor Was Divine*, depicts the harsh reality of Executive Order 9066 (1942) on the interned Japanese Americans during World War II by focusing specifically on one family. Otsuka initially uses the color white as a positive symbol of freedom and hope, but later employs it as an indicator of racial oppression and despair, mirroring the family’s changing perception …show more content…

The benevolence of the color white reflects the family’s optimistic perception of American life in the beginning. The family keeps longing for their “white stucco house” (25) during their forced train ride to the internment camps, indicating the stability and peace the house brings to them. The white stucco house, an iconic enigma of the American Dream, also symbolizes the family’s desire to truly assimilate and create a solid sense of belonging in the country. One night in the internment camp, the mother becomes very restless and cannot bear to stay any longer. In an attempt to gain composure, she hangs a white sheet above her bed. Once the white curtain drapes separate her from the harsh reality of the internment camps, she is able to “sleep” and “dream” (94). While the white curtain represents the mother’s surrender to America’s oppression, it ultimately shows that her faith in the American Dream brings her peace. White also symbolizes the family’s loyalty in their endeavors to survive in America. Although the old family dog, White Dog, has been a loyal and “good dog”, the mother kills him out of loyalty, since they are not allowed to bring animals to the internment camps. If she did not, then White Dog would suffer a slow, painful death; he would have neither food nor shelter. Here, white clearly represents both White Dog’s and Mother’s loyal bond that only death can break. White …show more content…

Reflecting upon life in the internment camps, the boy notes the negative influence of the dust surrounding him: It “[is] white” and “soft” at first glance, but makes his nose “bleed” and takes “his voice away” (64). The omnipresent white dust depicts the pervasive, xenophobic reality of white America that surrounds the family and limits their freedom. Although some may argue that Japanese internment was a necessary safety measure, it is apparent that the persecution of Japanese American was due to racial discrimination. Germans and Italians, who were both included in the Axis powers like the Japanese but were white in skin color, were deemed trustworthy and safe, and were not treated like enemies. The white Americans’ attempt to disguise their revulsion toward Japanese Americans under the pretense of nationalism ultimately chisels away the family’s pride in their Japanese identity. On a chilly night in the internment camps, the girl practices jumping with the “white jump rope” because she has been conditioned by white Americans to believe that she does not even “deserve to hold the rope” (97). The white jump rope symbolizes the tight bind of white American ideals that constricts and forces her away from her Japanese identity. She blames her ethnic background for her own inferiority when she shoves her

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