In Joy Kogawas's Obasan, Stephen says to Naomi "It is a riddle...We are both the enemy and not the enemy" (p.67, ch.12). What exactly does he mean?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen's idea of hate and self- hate help to explain why there is so much intensity of emotions from a social and psychological level in the work.  Stephen's ideas of being both the "enemy" and "not the enemy" help to bring out the challenge facing the Japanese- Canadian identity in the story.  It reflects the difficulty in being able to assess where blame starts and where it ends.  The quote helps to display the reflective nature of hatred, something that Stephen himself feels about his predicament.  It shows how much of a challenge it is to assess where blame lies in much of what is being displayed.  Stephen's quote also reflects how the self- hate that is evident in being Japanese- Canadian helps to drive home how judgment and perception are both impacted by social reality.  For Naomi and Stephen, there is much in way of struggle and challenge in validating voice and finding out how to make peace of what is happening in the past with their own sense of the present.  There is no simplicity, and only complexity.  This is the reality that is revealed through Stephen's quote where terms like "enemy" are reflective and contextually driven.