In When the Emperor Was Divine, how do the events of the story affect or change the children? What do these changes indicate about the children?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The largest impact of internment is how it changed reality for the boy and girl. Internment impacts the reality of the boy and the girl in the alteration of the way in which they see the world and their place in it.  For the girl, the events of the story impact her identity.  She is at a point in adolescence where she is able to gain more insight into reality and herself.  It is a reciprocal process, one in which her mindset processes both realities in a parallel manner.  For example, she likes to display her "worldly" knowledge to her brother as it showcases her acquired understanding of the world around both of them: ''She said that Mrs. Kimura was really a man, and that a girl in Block 12 had been found lying naked with a guard in the back of a truck. She said that all the real stuff happened only at night.''  At the same time, this display of knowledge is only present because she feels completely lost in the world in which she is placed.  This becomes evident when she expresses the reality of being marginalized because of her ethnicity: "They let me turn the handle... but they wouldn't let me jump."  The girl is impacted by the events of paranoia and internment because it is a reality that envelops her.  Such a condition of being affects her, changing her perception of the world and her place in it.  

The boy experiences similar changes. For example, the boy becomes occupied with the reality that surrounds him.  The imprisonment of internment impacts the boy in a profound way, as seen with the turtle.  The nightmares he has about the turtle upon whose shell the boy has scratched the family's identification number feature the animal's ''claws scrabbling against the side of the box.''  This shows how the boy has been impacted as a result of the internment experience.  While such a reality develops in the boy's mind, he also displays the desire to simply want to be a child.  While the girl is moving towards adulthood, evidenced in her rebuke of her mother's desire to ease her pain on the train ("Don't touch me...I want to be sick by myself."), the boy wishes to remain in childhood.  It is almost an inward retreat from the adult realities of internment, seen in how the child wishes to play cops and robbers and imagines himself as an Allied soldier killing Nazis and "Japs."  Internment changes the boy as it imposes reality at an early age upon him, causing him to both process it and run away from it.

The changes that both children undergo as a result of internment highlights the pain and brutality that was intrinsic to it.  One of Otsuka's primary motivations is to detail how internment was more than a historical reality.  It impacted the people involved as it permanently changed the world and their place in it.  This is evident in the children, who bore the brunt of internment the rest of their days without a frame of reference which could be used as a shield.  In the end, the stain upon their consciousness is the scar of internment, reflecting how much change it wrought on individuals.

sbglobal | Student

events of the story affect or change the eleven year old girl and eight year old boy through the novel

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When the Emperor Was Divine

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