In Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, consider discussing silence versus action through the lens of Naomi’s Obasan (obasan means “aunt” in Japanese). Obasan is deaf. She can’t hear, and she talks little. When her husband dies, Naomi asks her if she’s doing ok. While Obasan repeats a few words about how old everything is (including her house and house and body), she doesn’t say much; she’s mostly silent.
According to Naomi, silence is the “language of her grief.” As the years have gone by, the silence within Obasan’s “small body has grown large and powerful.” In Kogawa’s story, silence could be interpreted as a show of strength and control. One could argue that Obasan’s reticence and lack of hearing leave her in command of her situation. It helps her filter out the myriad persecution that she’s suffered.
Conversely, silence can be thought of as harmful. Naomi is abused by her next-door neighbor Old Man Gower. “Every time he carries me away, he tells me I must not tell my mother,” remembers Naomi. In this situation, silence doesn’t combat traumatic events so much as facilitate them.
As for action, it might be interesting to think about how action tends to serve as a harbinger for bad things. The action in the story is generally unfortunate. It consists of persecution, displacement, abuse, and death. Even seemingly innocuous moments, like when Naomi puts the chicks in the hen cage, turn into destructive, violent incidents.
Again, taking into account the amount of suffering that Naomi, Obasan, and her family have had to bear, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand why Obasan has opted to, more or less, tune out the world as best she can.