What are some quotations that support the theme of silence in Obasan?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Naomi Nakane, the protagonist of the book, lives quietly in Canada while her Japanese-Canadian family members try not to speak about what happened during the war. In the excerpt that begins the book before chapter 1, the author writes, "There is a silence that cannot speak. There is a silence that will not speak." This passage is about the way in which the family cloaks their lives in silence.

Naomi says, as an adult, "From Obasan and Uncle I have learned that speech often hides like an animal in a storm" (page 4). She has been raised to repress her emotions and keep quiet about what is going on around her, just as her family tried to keep quiet about their suffering during the war. In this simile, their silence is compared to an animal hiding in fear.

Naomi also says of her aunt, "The language of her grief is silence" (17). When Naomi's uncle dies, her aunt expresses no outwards signs of grief, similarly to the way she has reacted to misfortune throughout her life.

Even good memories are cloaked in silence. For example, Naomi thinks about a picture of her uncle next to a boat in better days but says, "The memories were drowned in a whirlpool of silence" (26).

Naomi is in her thirties before she learns the truth about her mother—that her mother was disfigured in the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima and died in Japan after the war. Naomi has to break through the silence of her family to discover the truth.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Quotes on the theme of silence are:  

"The language of her grief is silence...Over the years, silence within her small body has grown large and powerful" (P. 17, middle of Ch. 3).

In Japanese culture, grief is expected to be borne without complaint.  This is one of the reasons why the Japanese in Canada were so compliant with the order for their relocation.  Obasan exemplifies this tradition, drawing dignity and power from quiet endurance. 

"The memories were drowned in a whirlpool of protective silence.  Everywhere I could hear the adults whispering, 'Kodomo no tame.  For the sake of the children'" (p. 26, last pg. of Ch. 4).

The Japanese believed children should be sheltered from the traumas of life, so in the face of war the adults suffered in silence so as not to upset the children.  This philosophy is carried to the extreme by Naomi's mother, who, horribly disfigured by the atom bomb, chose to let her children believe she was dead rather than have them see the terrible truth.

"...I know it's the children who say nothing who are in trouble more than the ones who complain" (p. 41, first half of Ch. 7).

In the same way that she recognizes inarticulateness as a problem in her students, Naomi finds that the silence so prevalent in her heritage causes difficulties for herself.  She is tortured by the secret of her childhood molestation, and haunted by not knowing her mother's fate.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team