Summary and Analysis Chapter 3



It is the evening of August 6. After 12 hours of post-bomb suffering, a Japanese naval launch moves slowly down the seven rivers of Hiroshima, stopping at strategic spots. A young naval officer in a neat uniform announces that there is hope and that the people should be patient because help — a naval hospital ship — is coming. The survivors breathe easier knowing help is on the way.

Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Tanimoto join forces to evacuate the priests from Asano Park to the Novitiate in the hills. Responding to Kleinsorge's call for help, six priests return carrying litters for the two injured priests to the Novitiate. The priests enlist Mr. Tanimoto to take them by boat upstream to a clear road. Father Kleinsorge also requests that the priests send back a handcart for Mrs. Nakamura and her children.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tanimoto rescues two groups of people. Their wounds are ghastly and "suppurated and smelly." The minister must remind himself "these are human beings." Horrified, he must sit down to get his bearings. He makes three trips upstream in his boat with weakened survivors and he also rescues two young girls who have horrible, raw burns. They have been up to their necks in salt water, so the pain must be excruciating; the younger girl, who is in shock, dies.

The suffering continues. Dr. Fujii and Miss Sasaki are each alone and in great pain. In the Red Cross Hospital, a worn-out Dr. Sasaki "moves aimlessly." Blood, vomit, dust, and plaster are everywhere, and there is no one to carry out the dead. At 3 p.m., he has worked 19 hours straight and cannot dress another wound.

In sharp contrast to the people's suffering and understanding of what has happened comes a message over Japanese radio stating that Hiroshima has been attacked by B-29s. A new kind of bomb is believed to have been used and the "details are being investigated." No one in Hiroshima hears the broadcast by the American president saying that it was an atomic bomb that hit Hiroshima, more powerful than 20,000 tons of TNT.

Suffering and lack of help are the basic themes of this chapter. Mr. Tanimoto finds a doctor who explains that the badly wounded will die. As the doctor puts it, "We can't bother with them." At about the same time, looking for fresh water, Father Kleinsorge finds along the way twenty men with completely burned faces, hollow eye sockets, and cheeks streaked with fluid from their melted eyes. Their injuries indicate they were facing upward at the time of the bombing. Their mouths are mere wounds, swollen and covered with pus. Father Kleinsorge forms a straw from a grass blade to give them water.

Despite his numbness from the sight of such pain and suffering, Father Kleinsorge demonstrates acts of kindness and almost cries when such actions are proffered to him. Father Kleinsorge meets two children who are separated from their mother and questions them. Their family name is Kataoka. He asks the Novitiate to send a cart for the children. Feeling weak, he talks with a woman who hands him a tealeaf to chew so that he will not feel so thirsty. Her gentleness makes him want to cry. Earlier Father Kleinsorge arranged for a handcart to take Mrs. Nakamura and her children to the Novitiate. The cart arrives and the Nakamuras leave for safety. Later Mrs. Nakamura finds out that her entire family has been killed. As he leaves for the Novitiate on foot, Father Kleinsorge sees the massive destruction all around the city. He reaches the Novitiate. Sick and exhausted, he goes to bed.

Miss Sasaki watches men haul corpses out of the factory and waits for help. Her leg is swollen, putrid, and discolored, and she has had no food or water for two days and nights. On the third day, friends come looking for her body and find her alive. Later, men put her in a truck and take her to a relief station where there are army doctors. After discussing amputation, the doctors decide against it. Miss Sasaki is sent to a military hospital where they keep her because she develops a high temperature.

People are both entering and leaving the city. Father Cieslik goes to the city looking for Mr. Fukai, the secretary of the diocese, but he cannot find him. That evening, the theological student who was Fukai's roommate says that Mr. Fukai had told him a short time before the bombing that Japan was dying and that he wanted to die with her. Evidently he has received his wish. Dr. Sasaki works three straight days with only one hour's sleep. He worries again that his mother will think him dead. He gets leave to go to her home where he ends up sleeping for 17 hours.

Official news finally breaks, but the survivors are too busy to listen. It is now August 9, and at 11:02 a.m. an atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki. As this news breaks, Mr. Tanimoto is in the park helping victims. He takes a tent from his home to help shield survivors. His former neighbor, Mrs. Kamai, still holds her dead baby and seems to be watching Mr. Tanimoto. He suggests that she cremate the baby, but she simply holds on tighter and continues to watch him.

Order is slowly being restored, and the situation of each survivor is revisited. The Novitiate is doing its part by taking in fifty refugees, including Mrs. Nakamura and her children, who are still vomiting every time they eat. At the Red Cross Hospital, Dr. Sasaki is discovering that things are finally becoming routine. Corpses are identified and burned on pyres. The Japanese feel that they have a moral responsibility to cremate and enshrine the dead; in this situation, even their grave obligation to the dead is in jeopardy. The Kataoka children, whom Father Kleinsorge befriended in the park, are reunited with their mother on Goto Island, off Nagasaki. The compassion and forgiveness of the Reverend Tanimoto is particularly evident when he goes to the bedside of a man who had wronged him. The military hospital is getting a large number of soldiers, so they evacuate civilians, including Miss Sasaki. She is placed on a ship and lies in the sun all day despite her fever. Eventually, she goes to see a fracture specialist from Kobe.

On August 15, Emperor Tenno gives a radio address, telling his people the war is over.


Chapter 3 begins in late afternoon on August 6 and ends on August 15, officially known as V-J Day or "Victory over Japan Day." There is irony in the title of the chapter, "Details Are Being Investigated." The grim fact is that the helpless survivors have no access to nor do they have time to think about official information, and their lives are a living hell of pain and suffering. The irony continues when we realize that "the details being investigated" have nothing to do with the survivors. No government is making any effort to help the survivors or understand what they have been through. It is the devastation and not the victims that are being investigated. The Japanese government is checking out the amount of damage and the scientific community is considering what kind of bomb this could have been. The government releases carefully censored news, but the ordinary citizen has no use for it. Throughout the chapter, there are official announcements by both the Japanese and American governments. And while those words go out over the airwaves, only hopelessness and catastrophic suffering dominate in Hiroshima. It is an uphill battle for those who are dying, those who are helping the wounded, and those who are alone. People are discovering that their family members are dead or they are being reunited with family members thought to be missing. And, over all these days, the few people who have a moment to think are trying to make sense out of death on such a vast scale.

Like omniscient stage managers dispensing factual tidbits, the Japanese and American governments come into this chapter in selected spots. The Japanese naval ship that promises hope never delivers. The reader senses that there will be no help. While the Japanese people look toward their government for relief — medical supplies, doctors, nurses, food, water — the reader realizes that the naval boat, though promising help, is simply assessing the overwhelming needs. Again, Hersey seems to be pushing the investigation of the damage to the forefront. The naval ship is checking on the extent of the bombing and forming theories about the cause. Rumors and theories abound concerning this strange bombing. The nature of the bombing raid is speculated upon by Japanese radio and finally announced by American shortwave broadcast. The "atomic" bomb's vastness cannot even be understood by the human mind, but its results are being felt throughout this city. Hersey uses these faceless announcements to emphasize the impersonal, scientific, and political nature of the bomb, juxtaposed against the total confusion and lack of organized help for the people's suffering.

The "helpers" are but a drop in a huge river. Even though Mr. Tanimoto evacuates a number of people who are horribly burned and dying, he cannot stay and help all of them. As he transfers the priests upstream, many people call out to him. He comes back to help the dying because they are too weak to move away from the edge of the river and they will drown with the incoming tide if they are not moved. Eventually, Tanimoto must carry each one to the boat, take them up river, and deposit them on higher ground. Ironically, many are ferried to their deaths on the sandpit anyway.

Western readers may be reminded here of the ferryman carrying souls across the River Styx. The images of death and the multitudes of people dying with their arms reaching out for Tanimoto and the bodies all intertwined may also evoke in the Western reader the images in hell of Dante's Inferno, as the dead and the dying are so numerous that Tanimoto's job is impossible. Tanimoto is sickened as he takes one woman's hand and her skin slips off in "huge, glove-like pieces." The picture is so grotesque that he questions his sanity. He must sit down to get his bearings. When he rescues the two young girls who have been up to their neck in salt water, he leaves them with Father Kleinsorge, where the younger one dies of shock. For every individual who is saved another 10, 50, 100, or 1,000 die. Father Kleinsorge also finds himself fighting against great odds. He goes for fresh water outside the entrance of the park. The army doctor he sees has only iodine with which to help people.

This helplessness is further illustrated by Dr. Sasaki's battle at the Red Cross Hospital. Eventually more help arrives, but again it is just a minor melody in a symphony of pain and suffering. The frustration of these three is vented in Mr. Tanimoto's realization of his "blind, murderous rage." How can the government let such a thing happen? Where is the help?

As order begins to be restored, reuniting families and making sense out of what has happened are the new tasks. Fathers Schiffer, LaSalle, and Kleinsorge are at the Novitiate and have had their wounds dressed. They are getting some rest. At the park, Father Kleinsorge befriended the Kataoka children (ages 13 and 5). Now they are reunited with their parents. But far more often the survivors find out that they are alone.

Mrs. Nakamura's whole family is gone except for her children. A relative, Mrs. Osaki, comes to see Mrs. Nakamura on August 10 and explains that her son died when the factory he worked in burned. Toshio Nakamura has nightmares about the fire because Mrs. Osaki's son was his friend.

Some are left alone in silence, and others search for answers. It appears that Mrs. Sasaki has no one left. Dr. Fujii's niece and Mr. Fukai, who wanted to die with Japan, will never be seen again. Mr. Tanimoto tries to make sense of his blind rage that came from so much death and destruction. He returns to his parsonage and digs through the rubbish looking for his old life. Mr. Tanaka, a man who had spread rumors of Mr. Tanimoto being a spy for the Americans, is dying. He sends for the minister. Even though Mr. Tanimoto hates him and thinks he is selfish and cruel, he goes to the bedside of Mr. Tanaka and reads a Psalm over him as he dies. His words of Scripture over Mr. Tanaka afford the minister a bit of grace, but still there are no answers.

Hersey begins a pattern concerning Mr. Tanimoto in this chapter that seems to continue throughout the book. In Asano Park he is a ferryman between life and death, who tries to save as many as he can. Here, in reading the Scripture over Mr. Tanaka, he seems to be a bridge between the dying man and God. This image of Tanimoto standing in between two opposites will be repeated again later when he attempts to be a liaison between the survivors and the government agencies that can help them. And finally, he is certainly the interpreter of the message from the Emperor over the radio and the reaction of the people. Mr. Tanimoto always seems to be a go-between of sorts between each group.

Father Kleinsorge, too, walks through the city and looks through the debris of the mission house amazed at the destruction.

Hersey uses several of the survivors to explain the continuous search for answers. In the basement vault where the hospital keeps its X-rays, someone discovers that the X-rays have all been exposed, leading to more speculation and questions about the strange bomb. Dr. Fujii listens to rumors of magnesium dust and speculates on what has happened. Just as the government provided no help, it also provides no answers. Each survivor struggles on his or her own to figure out what has happened, and Hersey seems to emphasize their perplexity. So far, for the survivors in Hiroshima, there are no answers. No answers are available and the government is silent. No answers, no help.

Throughout this chapter, Hersey contrasts the government's broad pronouncements and the survivors' total lack of understanding. Around August 12, there is a rumor, vague at first, that the bomb that destroyed the city was made by the energy produced when atoms split. The Japanese call it an "original child bomb," and the newspapers make cautious statements about it. Although the average man on the street has trouble understanding this, the Japanese physicists who come into the city to measure various aspects of the destruction understand it well.

Readers see that the "atomic age" has spawned a whole new power that can be tripped by a switch in a moment. If Hersey had not included these details, the political and scientific nature of the entire event would have been ignored. The survivors, in contrast, bear the suffering caused by this new scientific knowledge but are removed from it and are ignorant of its power. Their government, whose policies and refusal to surrender have resulted in this event, cannot protect its people or provide services to help their suffering. This government's silence to its people in this catastrophe reveals its own inability to respond amidst confusion and chaos.

Yet another government symbol is brought in at the end of the chapter — the Emperor Hirohito. Hersey effectively uses Mr. Tanimoto as an interpreter between the government and the suffering people. Emperor Tenno (Hirohito) addresses his people for the first time on the radio on August 15. Hersey uses Tanimoto's later account to describe how the people are awed by the voice of their emperor speaking to them, the common people. But the people Tanimoto describes are bound in bandages, helped to stand and walk, and leaning on sticks to support their injured limbs.

Perhaps Mr. Tanimoto sees yet another irony — the honor and emotional pride of a people when they consider their ruler and government contrasted with their physical and emotional suffering at the hands of that same government that has refused to surrender despite the cost to its people.


succor to give assistance to in time of need or distress; help, aid, relief.

staves plural of staff; sticks, rods, or poles; here, used as a support in walking.

clavicle the bone that connects the scapula with the sternum; collarbone.

contusions bruises; injuries in which the skin is not broken.

charnel-house a building or place where corpses or bones are deposited.

diversion anything that diverts or distracts the attention; specifically, a pastime or amusement.

gas gangrene a gangrene caused by a microorganism that produces gas within the tissue of wounds, causing severe pain and swelling.

credence belief, especially in the reports or testimony of another.

Lauritsen electroscope an instrument for detecting very small charges of electricity, electric fields, or radiation.

Neher electrometer a device for detecting or measuring differences of electrical potential.

moribund dying.

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