Naomi Nakane, the protagonist and the narrator of the prose sections. At the age of thirty-six, she is an unmarried elementary teacher in Cecil, Alberta, and is bored with her dead-end life. She is a quiet, subservient, and evasive adult whose victim-oriented personality has been shaped by childhood abuse of both a sexual and a political nature.
Ayako, “Obasan” of the title, is a timid and victimized “everywoman” who endures abuse and believes that the best way to live is to hide unpleasantness and simply endure. The words “silence” and “stone” describe both her and her husband, in whose household Naomi and Stephen grow up.
Isamu, the husband of Ayako and uncle of Naomi. Scion of a shipbuilding and shipowning family, he is exiled from Vancouver inland to the prairie during the relocation, which hits him particularly hard. The “stone bread” he bakes symbolizes the hardships that Japanese Canadians endure. His funeral is the narrative frame for the story.
Emily Kato, Naomi’s unmarried aunt who lives in Toronto. She is an angry and vocal political activist who spends the novel trying to convince Naomi to become more aggressive in defending her heritage and in making her abuses public. She has saved a box of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and political documents that tell an important part of the...
(The entire section is 504 words.)