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John Hersey’s Hiroshima is an account of the effects of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 9, 1945. According to the publisher’s notes, the book was written for The New Yorker magazine to give some balance to the reportage of the event, as most accounts up to that time did not focus on the people who suffered as a result of the world’s first nuclear attack.
Hersey interviewed and wrote about six relatively ordinary people, showing what they were doing before the blast, how the actual blast felt and looked to them, and how they dealt with the subsequent disaster.
Sometimes it can be a little tricky to determine a writer’s thesis if he does not directly state it. Hersey was attempting to write an objective account of the attack, and in so doing he kept his own opinions out of the book. In such a case, the thesis can sometimes be a matter of opinion based on the evidence provided by the writer in the work. Obviously, Hersey is concerned with the suffering and fates of those who lived through the blast. A reasonable thesis could be something like, “Although the bomb represented a step forward scientifically and hastened the end of a devastating war, there was a profound cost in human suffering and the loss of human life.” The following excerpts help illustrate this thesis.
One of the people Hersey interviewed was actually a Caucasian priest named Father Kleinsorge. As he tries to help others who have been harmed more than he, he encounters one horrific sight after another:
He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glove-like pieces.
At one point a little later he encounters a group of soldiers staggering through the woods:
He saw there were about twenty men, and they were all in exactly the same nightmarish state: their faces were wholly burned, their eyesockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks.
However, by the time the reader has finished the short book he has read about more than suffering and death. The people Hersey describes move forward with a sort of heroic stubborness, saving what and who they can while dealing stoically with the disturbing images they see.
Notice that Hersey reports this material in a “matter-of-fact” style. There is no need to embellish the brutal effects of the blast with hyperbolic description; the imagery speaks for itself.
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