A summary of the novel will pay equal attention to the important events and the main character's psychological development. It should also highlight the important themes that the author traces through the entire story.
When the story begins, H is seven years old, and Japan is at war with China. By the end of the novel, Japan has lost the war with the Allied forces, the atomic bombs have been dropped on two Japanese cities, and the army of occupation has entered the country. The novel traces H's journey from an innocent young child through the deprivations of war to his final decision as a young adult to study art.
Early experiences that H witnesses contribute to his understanding of what it means to live in a country during wartime. These include young men being forced to join the military or taking their own lives in order to avoid doing so. Along with external events, H matures internally, as other boys do. He gradually comes to understand the idea of nationalism through restrictions on his personal activities (including wearing the same school uniform as all other children) and the glorification of the empire on its 2600th anniversary.
The gradual imposition of more restrictions, as the country experiences war-time deprivations in food and supplies, are things the boy must accept. Entering his teens, H is required, like other boys, to participate in military exercises, regardless of his lack of interest (as he prefers drawing).
His hometown is bombed, and many families become homeless. Learning of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima near where his relatives live has a devastating effect. Fifteen when the war ends, H must make decisions about his studies and career path amidst a somber atmosphere of defeat and occupation.