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Obasan. Chaps 1-4 —Racial Minorities as Enemy Alien; Memories Chaps 5-14 -- Trauma and Survival in Different Languages. Surviving Trauma. Racial Minorities as Enemies Alien. 1. Japanese Internment 2. Obasan Chaps 1-4 Kate Liu. Outline. Joy Kogawa & Obasan: General Introd.

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Chaps 1-4—Racial Minorities as Enemy Alien; Memories

Chaps 5-14 -- Trauma and Survival in Different Languages

racial minorities as enemies alien

Surviving Trauma

Racial Minorities as Enemies Alien

1. Japanese Internment

2. Obasan Chaps 1-4

Kate Liu

  • Joy Kogawa & Obasan: General Introd.
  • Japanese Internment;
  • Obasan
    • Examples of Racial Differences and their Consequences
    • Not Enemy Aliens;
    • Noami’s treatment of the Past vs. Her Aunts’
joy kogawa biographical sketch
Joy Kogawa--Biographical Sketch
  • born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1935
  • relocated to Slocan and Coaldale, Alberta during and after WWII
  • Selected Publications:
  • Obasan. 1983.
  • Woman in the Woods. 1985.[poems]
  • Naomi's Road. 1986. [children’s lit.]
  • Itsuka. 1993. [Someday: the redress movement]
  • The Rain Ascends. 1995.
  • [a woman’s discovery of her missionary father’s being a pederast]
awards for obasan
Awards for Obasan
  • Books in Canada, First Novel Award.
  • Canadian Authors Association, Book of the Year Award.
  • Periodical Distributors of Canada, Best Paperback Fiction Award.
  • Before Columbus Foundation, The American Book Award.

Obasan--Family Trees



~ 1942







1893 ~ 1945








Nissei: Emily



(Tadashi Mark)







Ref. Family photo -- Chap 4; pp. 17-19; 20~ Discussed later

  • 1893--Grandpa Nakane arrived in Canada
  • 1933 – Uncle and Obasan got married.
  • 1941--Mother returned to Japan (clue: p. 20 )
  • 1942--Vancouver Hastings Park prison
  • 1945--the bombing of Nagasaki
  • 1951--moved to Granton
  • 1954--the first visit to the coulee (p. 2)
  • 1972--narrative present--Uncle’s death
japanese internment in canada
Japanese Internment in Canada
  • The turn of the century: early immigrants
  • 1941, December 7--the bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • 1942--evacuation of Canadian Japanese (Nikkei) from the Pacific Coast--the great mass movement in the history of Canada (Obasan Emily’s Diary; e.g. 92-93)--21,000 people moved
  • 1945-1949 deportation or 2nd relocation  right to vote and return to B.C.
  • More here
differences between the states canada
Differences between the States & Canada

U.S.: 1913 -- California Alien Land Law prohibited "aliens ineligible to citizenship" (ie. all Asian immigrants) from owning land or property, but permitted three year leases.

April 1942 -- The assembly centers, relocation centers, and internment camps were set up, and relocation of Japanese-Americans began. Internment camps were scattered all over the interior West, in isolated desert areas of Arizona, California, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming.

1944 -- Executive Order 9066 was rescinded by President Roosevelt,

1946 -- the last of the camps was closed in March.

differences between the states and canada 2
Differences between the States and Canada (2)
  • Canada:

-- Dispersal of family members--men sent to road camps in the interior of B.C., sugar beet projects on the Prairies, POW camp in Ontario;

-- not allowed to go back to the West after the War;

-- their properties liquidated.

differences between the states and canada 3
Differences between the States and Canada (3)


  • 1980 -- President Jimmy Carter signed the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Act – for investigation
  • 1991 – Bush’s letter of apology


  • 1980s--redress movement
  • 1988--formal apology to Nikkei+ $21,000 (Cdn.) to the survivors
obasan time line plot 1




Chap 1: 8/9 1972 Present Cecil, Alberta

--1954 Granton 1951(the bombing of Nagasaki) —

Chap 2: 9/13, 1972 Uncle’s death

Chap 3: back to Obasan’s house, question about the mother

Chap 4: [photos]  family histories (stone bread)

Obasan: Time Line & Plot (1)
obasan time line plot 2




Vancouver Days

Chap 5: Obasan in the attic, memory as spider

Chap 6: nightmare

Chap 7: Emily’s package—her last visit and the question if Naomi wants to know “everything”

Chap 8: Obasan lady of the leftovers

Chap 9: starts to remember- from the photo to memories of the house p. 50 —

Chap 10: Momotaro

Chap 11: episodes of the white chicken and Old Man Gower

Chap 12: —separation starts—the mother first;

Chap 13: preparation to leave;

Chap 14: bath with Obasan; Emily’s diary (-110)

Obasan: Time Line & Plot (2)
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • How are Naomi, Obasan and Uncle, as survivors of the collective trauma of internment, presented at the beginning of the novel?
  • How does Naomi start to remember?
  • The importance of The Kato and Nakane’s family photo presented?
  • What can be the significance of the opening epigraphs?
japanese canadians 1 not enemies alien
Japanese-Canadians: (1) Not Enemies Alien
  • Uncle --Uncle Sam, Chief Sitting Bull) ([1] 2);

-- adaptation to new lives and mixture of two cultures [3] p. 13 stone bread, margarine as Alberta;

  • Father –like Mandrake the magician
  • Obasan -- an old woman in

Mexico, France, as “the true and rightful owner of the earth.) ([3] 15)

japanese canadians 1 displaced aging and family life disrupted
Japanese-Canadians: (1) Displaced, aging and family life disrupted
  • Uncle – displaced from the sea and his fishing boats([3]13), forever severed from the sea ([4] 22)
  • Uncle and Obasan – old and fixated

(uncle --1, Obasan and Gramdma N – [4]17

the house is old) ([3] 15)

  • Emily and Naomi – no love life ([2] 8)
  • Naomi-- tense ([2] 7);

-- her thirst for knowledge ([1] 3)

-- rational control over her emotion: her mind separated from herself ([2] 9).

  • Stephen in constant flight ([3] 14)
the past different treatments
The Past: Different Treatments
  • How do the three generations each deal with the past differently?
  • Obasan--issei—
    • language of grief--silence ([3] 14);
    • ancient; accepting death;
    • live with the past ([3]11, 14-16; [5] 25-26 ),
  • Emily--nisei—
    • energetic, visionary ([2] 8),
    • To Naomi: “You have to remember…Denial is gangrene” [壞疽] (49-50)
    • [later]“word warrior” (32), “white blood cells” (34)
    • Asserting her Canadian identity--“This is my own, my native land”
different generations on language and silence
Different Generations on Language and Silence
  • “To the issei, honor and dignity is expressed through silence, the twig bending with the wind….The sansei view silence as a dangerous kind of cooperation with the enemy.” --Joy Kagawa in an interview with Susan Yim
historical reconstructions more next time
Historical Reconstructions –[more next time]
  • Three ways of dealing with memories:
    • Obasan: ancient woman who stays in history
      • --can be consumed by the past,
      • --can make use of the leftovers
    • Emily: “The past is the future” p. 42
    • Naomi: “Crimes of history . . . can stay in history” p. 41
naomi s thirst and fragmentary memories
Naomi’s thirst and fragmentary memories
  • “Why do we come here every year?” “Why did my mother not return?”
    • -- her thirst for knowledge ([1] 3)
  • Transferred to her uncle ([3]14)
  • Photographic memories –

Older relatives described with humor –like advance guard

    • Grandfather Kato: the toes of his boots to "angle down like a ballet dancer's" (17)
    • Grandmother Kato: "nostrils wide in her startled bony face" (17).
naomi s photographic memories
Naomi’s Photographic memories
  • Family photo:
    • Grandma Nakane's "plump hands" and "soft lap“
    • Grandfather Nakane—like Napoleon.
    • "look[ing] straight ahead, carved and rigid, with their expressionless Japanese faces and their bodies pasted over with Rule Britannia " (18).
    • Mother – beautiful, fragile; Emily – short waved hair
  • The House –chap 9
naomi s photographic memories1
Naomi’s Photographic memories
  • Family as a knit blanket, moth-eaten
  • Uncle and Father’s – the boat – the relocation.
  • Memories – in a whirlpool of protective silence (end of chap 9)  epigraph
imagery of stone sea
Imagery of Stone & Sea
  • What is the significance of the stone imagery?
  • The bible--“a white stone”--”a new name written”
  • epigraph--“The word is stone.”
  • Uncle’s stone bread
  • the coulee/ the ocean/ uncle and Chief Sitting Bull/ the family as a knit blanket (24-25)

Enemy Aliens vs. Survivors

  • Discussion Questions
  • Memory and Language:
    • Memory of Different Forms -- Aya Obasan, Aunt Emily, and Naomi
    • Different Languages
  • Family Togetherness vs. Fragmentation
  • Wartime Examples of Racism
    • [Children’s] Responses to Trauma
    • [Adults] Emily’s
discussion questions1
Discussion Questions
  • Memory and Language: How do Emily, Naomi and Aya Obasan deal with their grief, and memories of separation and unfair treatments?
  • Family and Fragmentation: How is the extended Japanese family depicted? Where do we see them broken apart?
  • Racism: Examples of Wartime Racism? The government’s justification and the responses to it of children or adults?
obasan aya
Obasan Aya
  • Live with the past
    • The house is old, items like her bodily parts, the house like “[3] her blood and bones” (15)
    • the attic: ([5] 25)
    • her “ancient” body like “long extinct vocalnoes” ([14]78)
    • “The language of grief is silence. She has learned it well, its idioms and nuances. Over the years, silence within her small body has grown large and powerful” (14)
  • Protective Silence;
aya vs emily
(Aya vs.) Emily
  • How different my two aunts are. One lives in sound, the other in stone. Obasan’s language remains deeply underground but Aunt Emily, BA, MA, is a word warrior. She’s a crusader, a little old gray-haired Mighty Mouse, a Bachelor of Advanced Activists and General Practitioner of Just Causes. ([7] 32)
  • Emily: wrote letters; changed “Japanese race” to “Canadian citizen” (33)
  • “We’re gluing our tongues back on. . . . We have to deal with this while we remember it. If we don’t we’ll pass our anger down in our genes. It’s the children who’ll suffer” (36).
aya vs emily1
Aya vs. Emily



Presents her a parcel of letters, documents, her diary

“The past is the future” ([7]42)

  • Uncle: Gratitude ([7]42)
  • “everyone someday dies” ([8] 44-45)
  • Photos everywhere – shows Naomi her mother’s photo


-- Why not leave the dead to bury the dead (42)

-- memories are to be forgotten (45)

-- All right, Aunt Emily, all right! The house then…([9] 50)

two different languages
Two Different Languages

One lives in sound, the other in stone.

  • Obasan Aya’s: stony silence; remains deeply underground
  • Speech hides like an animal in a storm (3)
  • Aunt Emily– a word warrior, a bulldozer, with “army, navy, air force” of letters (32)

-- “To attend its voice… is to embrace its absence. But I fail the task. The word is stone.”

-- “My fingers tunnel through a tangle of roots till the grass stands up from my knuckles…I search the earth and the sky with a thin but persistent thirst” (3)

-- Emily crusading still, while the others “seek the safety of invisibility” ([7] 32)

two languages of eyes
Two Languages of Eyes
  • Grandma Kato, Obasan– a stare is an invasion (47)
  • Emily – visually bilingual
naomi s denial of history chap 7
Naomi’s Denial of History – chap 7
  • "The very last thing in the world I was interested in talking about was our experiences during and after World War II" (33);
  • "Crimes of history,...can stay in history. What we need is to concern ourselves with the injustices of today" (41);
  • "Why not leave the dead to bury the dead?" "Life is so short,...the past so long. Shouldn't we turn the page and move on?" (42).
review naomi s process of remembering
Review: Naomi’s process of remembering
  • Performing yearly ritual without knowing why
  • Photographic memories –connected to the past thru’ fragments (53)
    • -- of the two families, of the father and uncle,
    • -- of herself and her mother  two languages of the eyes, two cultures ([9] 47)
the past in naomi s memory
The Past in Naomi’s memory:
  • Chap 9: Photograph
    • two languages;
    • two spaces -- home and outside  chap 11
  • The house and life in Vancouver
    • bathing -- burning but relaxing water; Grandma’s resourcefulness (48-49)
    • a collage of images (50)
    • Mother, father and Stephen Naomi and goldfish
    • The past—drowning whirlpool, Naomi as a fragment of fragments
two languages of eyes racial differences
Two languages of eyes  Racial Differences
  • Chap 11 –
  • the mother’s matter-of-fact eyes (59); “negation of good in the past tense”
  • Old Man Gower episode:
    • Her powerlessness – like “a small animal” cannot move, cannot say no. (63; snow white 64)
    • Negative consequences of silence: Noami’s quietness;
    • Her complicity –”terror and exhilaration” wecomes it (65)
    • her sense of guilt
  • Old Man Gower – the one to take over their house (Chap 12 )
question 2 the significance of the story momotaro
Question 2: the significance of the story Momotaro?
  • Both Canadian and Japanese;
  • family care and Maintaining honor in displacement;
  • The other fairy-tales:
    • Snow White: end of Chap 11
    • Humpty Dumpty end of Chap 15;
    • Goldilock chap 17,
    • All revisions of the fairy-tales show the child’s way of apprehending racism and displacement
    • the chicken episode Chap 11
other influences of racism
Other Influences of Racism
  • The family dispersed –
  • Noami’s sense of guilt and fear ([13] 73)
  • Her repression of past memories
  • Noami’s dreams: first one [6] 28-30; second one: [11] 59-
wartime racism
Wartime Racism

e.g. Against Jews in Germany and everywhere,

e.g. In-between mainland Chinese and Japanese

canadian government s rhetoric
Canadian Government’s Rhetoric
  • 4/8 newspaper – Japanese naval officers (94)
  • Nisei as "enemy aliens";
  • prison camps as "Interior Housing Projects"
canadian government s rhetoric1
Canadian Government’s Rhetoric
  • In 1944, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King claimed that it was “the sound policy and the best policy for the Japanese Canadians themselves … to distribute their numbers as widely as possible throughout the country where they will not create feelings of racial hostility” (qtd Miki 40).
emily s diary
Emily’s Diary
  • Confiscation –radio, curfew, all of their landed properties
  • Evacuation to work camp or Hasting Park– Sam sent away; the Morii gang 91
  • 3/2, 1942 everyone has to leave; curfew for Japanese, men sent away in unheated cars,
  • Treated like animals 100; Jap images 101
  • Emily bound for Toronto, Aya and the kids for Slocan 108-109
different responses
Different Responses
  • Naomi and Stephen’s responses 80-81; 89 Stephen limp
  • Nisei’s p. 81; 86 keeping faith to being bitter. Emily—becomes numb, lost, keeps writing and making sense of what’s happening …
  • Mark ‘s letter – about music and flowers 105
survival and fragmentation
Survival and Fragmentation
  • Beginning of Chap 15

“We are the hammers and chisels in the hands of would be sculptors, battering the spirit of the sleeping mountain. We are the chips and sand, the fragments of fragments tha fly like arrows from the heart of the rock. We are the silences that speak from stone. We are the despised. . .

We are those pioneers who cleared the bush and the forest with our hands, the gardeners tending and attending the soil with our tenderness . . .

  • Japanese Canadian Internment http://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/Canada/internment/intro.html
  • A History of the Japanese-American Internment http://www.fatherryan.org/hcompsci/
  • Analysis of two apology letters http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/asian/Article_Detail.asp?Article_ID=3267
  • Japanese Canadian Internment http://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/Canada/internment/intro.html
  • A History of the Japanese-American Internment http://www.fatherryan.org/hcompsci/
  • Analysis of two apology letters http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/asian/Article_Detail.asp?Article_ID=3267
  • Kinjiro Ninomiya,也就是中文的二宮金次郎,二宮金次郎原名二宮尊德,一七八七年出生於今日本神奈川縣,二宮十四歲時喪父,十六歲喪母,因為貧困而兄弟離散,獨自過著辛苦的日子。二宮深知只有讀書才能使人生豐盛,並能以所學解決問題,於是每天勞動之餘,挑燈夜讀,每每通宵達旦,終能藉所學得的知識為民眾謀福利,深受民眾敬仰。
japanese internment in canada1
Japanese Internment in Canada
  • The turn of the century: early immigrants (beginning; 8:00-11:40)
  • 1941, December 7--the bombing of Pearl Harbor
  • 1942--evacuation of Canadian Japanese (Nikkei) from the Pacific Coast--the great mass movement in the history of Canada (Obasan 92-93)--21,000 people moved (clip 2 13:00 – 17:30 confiscation; clip 3 relocation)
  • 1945-1949 deportation or 2nd relocation  right to vote and return to B.C. (clip 4 22:00-) (Also chap 14 of the novel)