Summary and Analysis
In the years from 1946 to 1985, the six survivors' lives went in several directions. After 1945, the Japanese began to use the word hibakusha, meaning "explosion affected persons" to describe the bomb survivors. Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, often sick from radiation illness, struggled to keep her family alive, sheltered, and fed for many years before the government began to help. Through a series of fortunate events, her life got better. She was able to rent a house for $1 per month and was eventually hired at a chemical company by a compassionate owner who did not discriminate against hibakusha. After working at the chemical company for 13 years, Mrs. Nakamura was able to retire, to see her son become employed, and to see her daughters marry and move away. Forty years after the bombing, she still suffered from the effects of radiation, but she had also learned to take care of herself. She avoided any political displays that were related to the bombing.
Dr. Terufumi Sasaki was haunted for the rest of his life by memories of August 6, 1945. He finished his doctoral degree and married well and because his family was wealthy he could afford to start a medical practice where, for five years, he mainly removed keloid scars from hibakusha. Being ambitious, he eventually left the hospital and opened a private clinic in Makaihara, putting Hiroshima behind him. But a series of tragedies marked the rest of his life. Diagnosed with lung cancer, he underwent surgery to remove his left lung. Then, in 1972, his wife died of breast cancer and he threw himself into his work and built a larger geriatric clinic. He had now distanced himself from Hiroshima. But occasionally he would treat a hibakusha and then be reminded of the "nameless souls" that went to mass graves outside the Red Cross Hospital in 1945.
Father Kleinsorge's whole life, from 1946 until his death, was filled with sacrifice and good works. He loved all things Japanese. He often wore Japanese clothes. He became a naturalized citizen whose new name was Father Makoto Takakura. Eventually he retired to a tiny church in Mukaihara, and the last ten years of his life were filled with illness. In l976, he slipped and fell, fracturing his back and becoming bedridden. On November 19, 1977, he died and was buried in a pine grove on a hill above the Novitiate.
After she was released from the hospital, Toshiko Sasaki lived with her younger siblings, Yasuo and Yaeko — who turned out to be alive — in a suburb in Koi. With no fiancé, she found comfort in Father Kleinsorge's words, and she was baptized a Catholic. Needing to support her brother and sister, she got a job working in an orphanage where she enrolled her siblings.
After the bombing, Miss Sasaki had a series of operations. She struggled to keep her family going. When she was able to consider her own needs, she studied to become a nun. Despite the difficulty of her studies, she realized that the tenacity and fortitude she showed after the bombing held her in good stead. She took her vows in 1957 and became Sister Dominique Sasaki.
During all this time, she had grave illnesses from the radiation poisoning. She also discovered that her greatest gift was to help people die peacefully. In 1980, she was honored for her years in the church, and she made a speech in which she stated that after the bombing, she realized that her life had been spared, but she desired to move forward rather than dwell on the past.
Dr. Masakazu Fujii enjoyed the good life more than the other survivors. He suffered few ill effects from the radiation. Fujii built a clinic in Hiroshima in 1948 — a modest structure in comparison with his earlier hospital — and he raised a family of five children. His life was filled with pleasure. He loved the gaudy entertainment district of Hiroshima, and he was getting a reputation as a playboy.
His remaining life had tremendous highs and lows. When money was raised for plastic surgery for a group of Hiroshima girls who were scarred extensively from the bombing, he went along on their trip to New York as an interpreter, a chaperone, and a social director. He spent time in New York City and enjoyed the company of the doctors of Mount Sinai Hospital. It was a wonderful life. However, 1963 found him back in Japan, where he was melancholy and depressed, and estranged from his wife. He built a new American-style home that was ostentatious and glamorous. But on New Year's Eve, he was found unconscious from a gas heater in his house. It was unclear whether it was the result of an accident or attempted suicide. For 11 years, he was hardly conscious. When he died, the autopsy revealed liver cancer.
The Reverend Tanimoto's life was connected throughout, in one way or another, with politics, the peace movement, and fund-raisers for the hibakusha.
Tanimoto connected with several influential people in America, including author Pearl Buck and the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature, Norman Cousins. With their help, he made three U.S. tours to raise money for the hibakusha. However, Tanimoto was increasingly left out of the Japanese peace movement; and like Mrs. Nakamura, he stayed away from political celebrations of the bombing. In 1982, Mr. Tanimoto retired. It seemed that forty years after the bombing, his memories of that day were not as clear as they had been earlier in his life. The world's memory of that day was fading as well.
The usual and customary way for an author to end a book is to pull together the themes of his story and explain their significance. Hersey never does that. As with his earlier chapters, Hersey remains true to a strict accounting of the factual lives of the six survivors during the forty years from 1945 to 1985. Because he does not interpret their lives for his own purposes, Hersey leaves many thoughtful questions for his readers. It is interesting to note, however, that he spends more time on the life of the Reverend Tanimoto and places his story last, intertwining it with landmarks in the production and testing of nuclear weapons.
The lives of the six survivors all took varying directions, just as they had prior to the bombing. Some struggled to keep their families together, some lost themselves in good works, and others found respite from the memories of the bombing in the pursuit of pleasure and wealth. Most of the survivors continued to have frustrating and debilitating illnesses due to the radiation poisoning or the wounds they received the day of the bombing.
Hersey first considered the life of Mrs. Nakamura. Following 1945, all of her life was a struggle filled with pain, uncertainty, and disability. However, her travail said a great deal about her resilience and her quiet human dignity. She adopted the philosophy of shikatata ga-nai, which is a fatalistic phrase meaning "it can't be helped." Instead of giving in to her disabilities and her pain, she forged a new life depending on herself and providing for her children.
Hersey may have used her story to show how the hibakusha were discriminated against following the bombing. Her life also illustrated the change in government policy to help the survivors long after the bombing. Evidently, the politics of the situation lengthened the political debate. This theme of the government's callous disregard to the needs of its people was repeated over again in Mr. Tanimoto's story.
Mrs. Nakamura's indifference to peace rallies may indicate her belief that the bombing was a historical and not a personal event. Her single-minded determination to avoid political issues and take care of her own life may symbolize the reactions of many of the non-political "little people" affected by the bombing of Hiroshima. They, along with Mrs. Nakamura, did not have the luxury of asking, "Why me?"
Miss Sasaki's experience the day of the bombing changed her life forever. It led her to find a vocation that gave her life great meaning. The reader might infer that the bombing, an event that took such little heed of human life, left her wondering what she could do to affirm life. As a Catholic nun and later a church administrator, she remembered the loneliness and listened to the faith she heavily relied upon during the hours, days, and weeks of her pain following the bombing. Perhaps her experience was the catalyst for this religious life-affirming choice. Only when one has experienced great sorrow can one help others with deep human empathy.
Miss Sasaki was a living presence that helped the dying find peace She, like Mrs. Nakamura, realized that one can only look forward, never back, after such devastation if one is going to have a life worth living that honors so many who died.
In the years that followed the bombing, Dr. Sasaki was haunted by his memories of those he couldn't save and the deaths he couldn't honor. He appeared to insulate his thoughts with overworking and larger and larger amounts of cash. The evidence of his memories appears in his eventual reluctance to attend both his old haunts in Hiroshima and his treatment of fewer and fewer hibakusha. Also, he often pushed his family away by non-stop working hours.
Dr. Sasaki's behavior in these years could reflect his attempts to outrun his own memories of death. His brush with lung cancer caused a temporary change in his behavior: He seemed to spend more time with his family. Later, the death of his wife was a devastating blow that caused him once again to throw himself into long hours of work. But after each of these reminders of life's end, Dr. Sasaki once again worked, made money, built larger businesses, and acquired more possessions. It was as though he might be able to deaden the pain of memory. Despite his vast enterprises and material success, perhaps he still thought of the indelible images of that day so long ago.
Dr. Fujii's life ended with his estranged family bitterly divided over his property. Of the six survivors, he was the least physically affected by the bombing and radiation sickness. He purposely pursued a hedonistic life, filling his years with pleasure. Much of this pattern of behavior was evident before the bombing when he had his own hospital and lucrative practice. Surrounding himself with luxuries and pleasure was an innate part of his character. His time spent in New York simply convinced him to indulge in acquiring still more expensive possessions. He loved being the center of attention and enjoyed the publicity and interviews from his trips to New York with the Hiroshima maidens.
But the end of his life revealed the fruitlessness of such occupations. His family was estranged, his health was failing, and he had nothing to lean on. Perhaps his suicide attempt — if it was that — was a way to end his pain and suffering. His depression and sense of loss revealed a lack of spiritual strength when life became difficult. Previously, acquiring material objects occupied his time and he didn't have to think about death. But, alone and in failing health, he had no choice.
Father Kleinsorge pursued a life of self-sacrifice in the years following the bombing. He purposely chose to deny his own medical difficulties so he could continue to help others. His stolid and uncomplaining attitude revealed a character that saw problems and solved them. The bombing brought out the best in his character but also left him with broken health that plagued his attempts to help others.
He also had the ability to bring people together in common goals and he made dependable judgments about their character. That was why he saw Miss Sasaki's needs and encouraged her to aspire to a religious life. The evidence of this trait in Father Kleinsorge was also revealed in the many visitors who stopped and thanked him for his advice and his help.
Of the six hibakusha, Father Kleinsorge perhaps suffered the greatest medical problems in the later years of his life. Maybe this was why he identified more with hibakusha than with the Japanese. Perhaps this is also why he — like Miss Sasaki — rededicated his life to a spiritual path in the years after the bombing.
The section that discusses Mr.Tanimoto is the longest section in the last chapter. It is played out against the watershed events of the nuclear armaments race. In less than his usual understated way, Hersey seems to be asking what the conscience of the world learned from the horrible pain and deaths of the people who were the survivors of the first atomic bomb.
Despite the fact that Mr. Tanimoto fell out of the peace movement in Japan, he continued to live his life to help those who were hurt in the bombing. One of those hurt was his daughter, Koko. She was subjected to embarrassment when American and Japanese doctors measured her growth in junior high. She was so traumatized by having to be naked in early adolescence under the eyes of these physicians that she hid the memory from herself for many years. Sent to America to go to college, her fiancé left her because his father thought she could not have normal children. This prejudice — also found in the story of Mrs. Nakamura's attempts to find work — seemed to be part of the uphill battle affecting the lives of hibakusha.
Fund-raising for the hibakusha was the focus of Tanimoto's life after the bombing and it revealed his relentless endurance and stamina as well as his remarkable and inspiring character. Mr. Tanimoto's three trips through hundreds of American cities seemed similar to his constant motion to help those hurt after the bombing. Just as he tirelessly helped those in Asano Park, he also relentlessly crossed America looking for support to help those who had been disabled by the event. His spiritual depth was revealed in two events in his quest for funds. On the television show when he had to face the very man who dropped the bomb on his city, he reacted with great dignity. His demeanor in the face of this event displayed his character in spite of amazing insensitivity. His spiritual advancement and remarkable character is also revealed when he prays for the U.S. Senate, a body that represented the very country that had bombed Tanimoto's city.
Politics is also part of this last chapter. Hersey showed the speculation of various government officials about Tanimoto's motives. It is no wonder that various government agencies questioned his sincerity and saw him as a publicity hound; they could not understand the non-political reasons a person could have for helping others.
Tanimoto's life is purposely presented last and is combined with dates of nuclear armament and escalating atomic testing because it — like Mrs. Nakamura's story — reflects the continued indifference of governments to the needs of their peoples. Countries pursue their own agendas of proliferating armament despite Hersey's record of what nuclear bombs do to human lives. The final and obvious conclusion one reaches is that the end of the game is total annihilation.
Always on the outskirts, Mr. Tanimoto lived to see the anti-nuclear movement in Japan split up in the early 1960s. In 1982, Mr. Tanimoto retired. Hersey ends Mr. Tanimoto's epilogue with the idea that the minister's memory of forty years before is getting as "spotty" as the memory of the world when it comes to nuclear weapons. Presenting the benchmarks of the nuclear weapons race, Hersey emphasizes that the world merely sees these dates as a news item and then forgets them. The answers that are missing in this "aftermath" are whether the bomb will be used again and whether the world learned a single thing from the people's suffering in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
debilitating weakening or enfeebling.
Diet the parliament of Japan.
attitudinizing striking an attitude; posing.
Meiji Restoration revolution in Japanese life and government that occurred after the accession of Emperor Mutsuhito (1867), characterized by the downfall of the shogun and feudalism and the creation of the modern state.
dendrology the scientific study of trees and woody plants, especially their taxonomy.
redolent sweet-smelling; fragrant.
lassitude a state or feeling of being tired and listless; weariness; languor.
analogous similar or comparable in certain respects.
efficacious producing or capable of producing the desired effect; having the intended result, effective.
latency a state of being dormant or inactive.
cataract an eye disease in which the crystalline lens or its capsule becomes opaque, causing partial or total blindness.
ostensibly apparently; seemingly.
admonition an admonishing or warning to correct some fault.
self-abnegating lacking consideration for oneself or one's own interest.
subjugation to be in a useful, helpful, or serving capacity, especially in an inferior or subordinate capacity.
anomaly departure from the regular arrangement, general rule, or usual method; abnormality.
neuralgia severe pain along the course of a nerve or in its area of distribution.
atrophy a wasting away, especially of body tissue or organs.
distilled spirits strong alcoholic liquor produced by distillation.
Esperanto an invented language, devised (1887) by Polish physician L. L. Zamenhof (1859-1917) and proposed for use as an international (chiefly European) auxiliary language.
Comintern the international organization (Third International) of Communist parties (1919-43) formed by Lenin to promote revolution in countries other than the U.S.S.R.
Pearl Buck (born Pearl Sydenstricker) 1892-1973; U.S. novelist raised in China who won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Good Earth.
cenotaph a monument or empty tomb honoring a person or persons whose remains are elsewhere.
Enola Gay the B-29 bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, dubbed with this name to honor the pilot's mother.
incarcerated imprisoned; jailed.
diplomatic pouch sack or pouch with an opening at the top that can be closed and used by governments to transport highly sensitive information.
deterrence the policy or practice of stockpiling nuclear weapons to deter another nation from making a nuclear attack.