When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka
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What are at least two things the girl says about her father to the man on the train in When the Emperor Was Divine? What parts seem untrue? What might be her reasons to lie?

The girl tells the man on the train that her father has been incarcerated. He was sent away to Missoula, then on to Fort Sam Houston. Now he's in New Mexico. She also tells the man that her father doesn't write to her.

The last of these statements isn't true. The girl's father has written to her every week since his arrest. Perhaps the girl is lying because she wants to generate sympathy from the man on the train.

Expert Answers

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The girl is in a fraught emotional state. Though outwardly calm, inside she must be feeling nervous about what the future holds. To be on a train headed for an internment camp would be a hard enough experience for an adult, let alone a child. So one can imagine just how difficult it is for the girl to handle this ordeal.

During the journey the girl strikes up a conversation with a man called Ted. She quickly divulges the unfortunate fate of her father, who's been moved about from internment camp to internment camp since he was arrested in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack. She also then goes on to say that her father never writes to her. This isn't true, however; the girl's father has written to her every week since he was arrested.

The girl makes one true statement and one false. Yet both seem to serve the same purpose. The girl needs all the sympathy she can get during what is a very difficult period in her life: the most difficult she's ever had to face. Telling Ted the truth about her father writing letters to her may have undercut the sympathy gained from telling him about her father's incarceration. Lying about the letters could well be an unconscious attempt on the girl's part to maintain that sympathy.

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