Joy Kogawa Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do dreams in Joy Kogawa’s novels link past with present?

While the issei (born in Japan) Canadians were quiet and respectful, how does their belief in itsuka (“some day” things will be better) motivate their more vocal subsequent generations?

What images of roots does Kogawa use to counterbalance uprooting in the plot?

How does Kogawa use silence as a way of speaking?

Discuss how the past eats at characters with its pain but also feeds them with its wisdom.

As Naomi’s family was moved during and after the war, how are they isolated and how are they joined to community?

Compare Naomi’s two aunts, Obasan and Aunt Emily. How do they influence Naomi?

Discuss the differences between Naomi, who cares for her aging Obasan and her brother Stephen, who hates his aunt and flees home as soon as he can and refuses to have anything to do with her.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Would measures like the summary internment of Japanese-heritage citizens be likely to recur in the United States or Canada? Why or why not?

Is Joy Kogawa accurate when she labels silence a Japanese virtue and “word warrioring” or truth-telling a Western trait?

What are some other natural elements that Kogawa uses, as she uses stone, to convey emotion or states of being?

In Obasan, close family ties are a source of strength and survival. In Kogawa’s poems, marriage usually means pain for the partners. How do you explain the difference?

When Rough Lock Bill tells the children the town’s name, Slocan, came from Indians chanting “Slow can go,” was he trying to tell them something else?


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cheung, King-Kok. Articulate Silences: Hisaya Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993. The artistic use of silence in the novel is discussed.

Davidson, Arnold E. Writing Against the Silence: Joy Kogawa’s “Obasan.” Toronto: ECW Press, 1993.

Goldman, Marlene. “A Dangerous Circuit: Loss and the Boundaries of Racialized Subjectivity in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan and Kerri Sakamoto’s The Electric Field.” Modern Fiction Studies 48, no. 2 (2002): 362-388. Analyzes the way the two authors represent loss, mourning, and the role of the victim.

Kanefsky, Rachelle. “Debunking a Postmodern Conception of History: A Defense of Humanist Values in the Novels of Joy Kogawa.” Canadian Literature 148 (1996): 11-36. Analyzes Kogawa’s relationship to historical events in her fiction.

Kruk, Laurie. “Voices of Stone: The Power of Poetry in Joy Kogawa’s Obasan.” Ariel 30, no. 4 (1999): 75-94. Shows the ways in which Kogawa’s poetic diction imbues her fiction with “attentive silence.”

Petersen, Nancy. Against Amnesia: Contemporary Women Writers and the Crises of Historical Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Kogawa is one of several authors discussed, with special reference to her depiction of the roles of women in preserving “alternative” memories of historical atrocities.