Summary and Analysis
Chapter 2 - The Fire
Right after the explosion, smoke is pushing up through the clouds of dust, and as the houses burn, large water droplets fall. Although the bomb caused fires citywide, other fires break out from inflammable wreckage that falls on peoples' stoves as well as on live wires. A lot of random destruction has occurred, and the survivors are having difficulty piecing together what has happened.
Mr. Tanimoto, the minister, runs "wildly" away from the estate and performs various acts of mercy. At first he thinks several bombs were dropped. He runs up a hillock on a private estate where he can get a panoramic view. What greets Tanimoto's eyes is unimaginable, and it causes him to run toward the city, concerned for his wife, baby, home, church, and parishioners.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Nakamura struggles out of the debris of her house and attempts to rescue her children. When she finds her children unhurt, she irrationally puts pants, blouses, shoes, helmets, and overcoats on them. She illogically drops the "symbol of her livelihood," her sewing machine, in a cement tank filled with water in the front yard. Grabbing a rucksack of emergency items, Mrs. Nakamura, her children, and a neighbor leave for Asano Park, an evacuation area on a rich estate by the Kyo River. The only building she sees standing is the Jesuit mission house. Father Kleinsorge, in his underwear, is leaving the mission house with a small suitcase.
Father Kleinsorge and the other priests of the mission are assessing the damage. One priest is taken to a doctor. Meanwhile, Kleinsorge checks out his room in the mission and then begins digging out people who are reported hurt and missing. Two of the priests take Father Schiffer, who is bleeding profusely, to find a hospital. Soon the priests return. They cannot get to Dr. Fujii's hospital because it has been destroyed.
Farther down the street (in the river), Dr. Fujii observes what is happening and realizes that his hospital is destroyed and that he has been dazed and disoriented for about twenty minutes. Then he realizes that the tide will soon be coming in, and when it does his head will be under water. Fear drives him to free himself and climb up the piling to the riverbank. After he is free, he feels the heat of the fires and returns to the coolness of the water. Stolidly, he waits for the fires to die down.
Dr. Sasaki grabs bandages from the storeroom of the Red Cross Hospital and helps people. Starting with the closest patients, he eventually prioritizes those who are the worst. Literally 10,000 people are making their way to the hospital — many are horribly burned, maimed, vomiting, and dying. He takes the worst wounds first, hoping to keep people from bleeding to death. After only a few hours, he works mechanically, going relentlessly from one patient to the next.
The luxury of a hospital is not available to Miss Sasaki back in the debris of the Tin Works; she is unconscious for three hours before she begins to hear people. Eventually, Miss Sasaki is dragged out with a badly broken and cut leg. As the rain comes down, a man carries her to a lean-to with two other horribly wounded people.
Like Mr. Tanimoto, Father Kleinsorge is trying to help victims. "Apathetic and dazed," Kleinsorge realizes that they must leave the area near the mission house because the fires are coming closer. He attempts, but fails, to rescue his secretary at the diocese, Mr.Fukai.
Mr. Tanimoto is the only person going into the city. He meets hundreds of people with burned eyebrows, hanging skin, shredded clothing, and burn patterns on their skin. Some people are vomiting and some are supporting others; all have their heads bowed and are emotionless. The compassionate Mr. Tanimoto is praying. He is ashamed of being so unhurt. Miraculously, he finds his wife and baby; they are okay but strangely unemotional. Now she is going back to Ushida, and she parts, bewilderedly, from her husband. Tanimoto goes to the East Parade Ground where thousands of people are hurt; he grabs a basin from a house and carries river water to them. Then he climbs into a boat and goes to Asano Park, where he meets Father Kleinsorge. Mr. Tanimoto stops to help people from the neighborhood.
Down at the river, Dr. Fujii stays in the water and moves upstream with his two nurses. He is ashamed of his appearance. In the afternoon, he sets off with the nurses for his parent's home. In Ushida, Fujii finds first aid articles at a relative's house. He bandages the nurses and then they bandage him.
At Asano Park, Mrs. Nakamura is sitting in the green, quiet place of refuge and watching hundreds of people pour in. She and her children are thirsty, so they drink from the river. They start vomiting. Silent and horrified by the ghastly wounds, Father Kleinsorge does what he can to help. No one weeps, screams, complains, or talks. Meanwhile, Mr. Tanimoto finds a boat and ferries ten or twelve people at a time throughout the afternoon because the fires are spreading toward the park.
The two ministers get people together to put out fires with clothes, buckets, and basins. Although it takes two hours, they succeed. The raindrops increase and a whirlwind tears through the park, destroying trees in its path. After the storm, Mr. Tanimoto again ferries people, and Father Kleinsorge makes arrangements to send a cart to pick up Mrs. Nakamura and her children the next day so that they can join the priests in Nagatsuka.
Hersey continues his objective, journalistic style in Chapter 2. Throughout this day, Hersey shows the results of the atomic bomb on the people, living and dead, in the city of Hiroshima. The devastation does not stop after the bomb explodes; it goes on relentlessly in the form of fires, whirlwinds, and unnatural acts of nature. Surviving the initial bombing is not the end, but rather the beginning of more horror. Hersey unflinchingly presents the pictures of destruction and death and allows his six survivors to tell the story through their own eyes. The sweeping catastrophe of the bombing is impossible for the mind to take in; on the other hand, the suffering of six individuals in the wake of the devastation can be grasped somewhat. Their survival, along with their desire to find safety and help others, seems to be a result of both fate and volition.
Hersey steps in intermittently during this chapter to add some factual explanations of what the survivors cannot know. He uses the actual description of the bomb to show that it has completely altered the atmospheric environment and nature itself, emphasizing the devastation that has occurred. He also explains technical aspects of the bomb's fallout and gives the reader a broader picture of the lack of medical assistance in the city, which of course leads to more death. He explains the fires, dust, smoke, houses burning, abnormal water droplets, and other phenomena resulting from the bomb. The abnormal water droplets, for example, are actually condensed moisture from the dust, heat, and fission fragments already in the upper atmosphere. These are pieces of the puzzle that the survivors do not know.
Then Hersey turns his attention to deaths due to lack of medical assistance. Dr. Sasaki is only one of six doctors (out of 30) at the Red Cross Hospital still able to function. There are only 10 nurses, out of a staff of over 200, able to work. What Dr. Sasaki cannot know is that 10,000 people are making their way to the hospital looking for help from him and the other five doctors; perhaps it is a blessing that he does not know this crushing fact. Only Hersey can tell us these statistics, because the six survivors are caught up in their individual struggles for existence and are not privy to this broader perspective. Even if they knew these facts, they would be able to do little about the hopelessness of their situation.
The author skillfully presents the individual narratives of the survivors, using only the events that they would personally know. Their viewpoints, once again, underscore their lack of help and their confusion. Hersey is able to show the confusion of each person who sees only one small piece of the puzzle. Used to conventional bombing, they have no idea of the total destruction beyond their limited viewpoint. Mr. Tanimoto, for instance, thinks at first that several bombs have fallen. He sees the panorama of destruction from the hill, and it is so overwhelming that he cannot comprehend what has happened. Later, his shocked description of people leaving the city while he looks for his family is sobering. They are silent, heads bowed, without expression, and in shock. Mrs. Nakamura sees not the vast panorama but a small part of the city. She notices what the street is like: no buildings are standing except for the mission, and people are calling out for help but she cannot help them. Father Kleinsorge is likewise confused by the vast destruction. He is perplexed by the damage done to his room in the mission. So much random destruction and in so little time! Miss Sasaki's viewpoint is totally limited because she is alone and hurt. Each character questions the irrational rationally: Both Dr. Fujii and Dr. Saski are overwhelmed by the destruction and their inability to help huge numbers of the injured. Hersey presents the limited viewpoints of each of the six survivors as they struggle to understand what is going on in their small corner of the city.
Total confusion and disbelief reign in the city. Speculations and rumors continue as people attempt to understand. When Mrs. Nakamura and her children get sick from drinking out of the river, the survivors hear that the Americans dropped a gas that is making everyone sick. When the abnormal drops of rain fall, the people believe that Americans are dropping gasoline on them that they will set on fire. Hersey adds these details to show the fear and terror of the survivors and their attempts to explain what they are seeing and feeling. It is mass chaos and total disorganization.
Throughout the chapter, the specter of overwhelming death dominates, and many of the people described cannot take in the vast human destruction. They are numbed by what they see; emotions become cold and detached. Mr. Tanimoto risks his life to find his wife and baby, but when he finds them he unemotionally says, "Oh, you are safe." Then he goes about his business of helping others, while his wife is left to struggle back to Ushida with their baby. The vast destruction also affects Father Kleinsorge who is "apathetic and dazed." When he reaches Asano Park, what he sees sickens him. The gruesome wounds, especially the burn victims, are so horrifying that at first he is afraid. Here Hersey seems to emphasize the grotesque nature of the wounded and the horrified reactions of those such as Kleinsorge who are trying to help. Many of the sights Kleinsorge describes are so far beyond reality that they seem like surrealistic nightmares — eyes melted into faces, skin falling off in large pieces, and disfiguring burns. But the German priest eventually does what he can to help; the victims are silent and no one weeps, screams, complains, or talks. All the survivors are desensitized to what appears to be a scene from hell.
Another common reaction amidst the confusion and helplessness is the attempt to help others. Throughout all of this shock, trauma, and overwhelming death, people commit acts of mercy and concern for those they love. All of the six survivors, except Miss Sasaki, who is alone, try to help others.
Many of the accounts of merciful acts are attempts on Hersey's part to show how individual survivors reacted to the overwhelming needs of others. These accounts also illustrate the characters of the men he is describing. Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge are certainly heroes of the Asano Park refugees. Their lives have been spent helping others and they do what seems to be natural to their sense of kindness. Each helps as many survivors as he can, but the number of injured people is overwhelming.
Dr. Fujii, on his way to get first aid supplies, helps both of the nurses who work for him; he also helps numerous others. Dr. Sasaki works relentlessly, 19 hours at a time. No effort is enough. It almost seems as though Hersey focuses his lens on individual acts of mercy and then later broadens the focus to the city as a whole.
solicitous showing care, attention, or concern.
panorama a picture unrolled before the spectator in such a way as to give the impression of a continuous view.
fission fragments fragments resulting from the splitting of an atom's nucleus.
papier-mache suitcase a carrying case made of a hardened mixture of paper pulp, glue, and so on.
breviary a book containing the Psalms, readings, prayers, and so on of the Divine Office.
Molotov flower basket (also bread basket) Japanese name for a self-scattering cluster of bombs.
extricated set free; release or disentangle (from a net, difficulty, and so on).
incapacitated unable to engage in normal activity; disable.
Mercurochrome trademark for a red liquid solution used as a mild antiseptic and germicide.
abrasions and lacerations scrapes and jagged tears or wounds.
porte-cochere a kind of porch roof projecting over a driveway at an entrance, as of a house.
Shinto shrine a religious building of the principal religion of Japan, with emphasis upon the worship of nature, ancestors, ancient heroes, and the divinity of the emperor. Prior to 1945, Shinto was the state religion.
brackish having an unpleasant taste; nauseating.
corrugated iron iron sheet formed into a wavy pattern of parallel grooves and ridges.
grotesque characterized by distortions or striking incongruities in appearance, shape, or manner; fantastic, bizarre.
atavistic displaying characteristics of remote ancestors.
ionization the process by which something becomes electrically charged, as a gas under the influence of radiation or electric discharge; here, the smell from such a process.
prostrate lying flat, prone, or supine; in a state of physical exhaustion or weakness.
Occidental a person born in the West or a member of Western culture. Here, Father Kleinsorge is German rather than Japanese.
Grummans military aircrafts made by the American firm Grumman Aircraft Corporation.
vortex a whirling mass of water forming a vacuum at its center into which anything caught in the motion is drawn; whirlpool.
razed to tear down completely; level to the ground, demolish.