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  • Topic #1

    Throughout the novel, Kogawa refers to the silence within Naomi’s family, both in terms of questions that go unanswered and in terms of information that is withheld. Detail how silence becomes a crucial part of Naomi’s upbringing, and what she concludes about the significance of silence in her own experience and that of her peers.

    I. Thesis statement: Silence may protect hurt feelings in the short-term, but it is a destructive force when it comes to preserving and understanding history.

    II. Silence is a choice within Naomi’s extended family “because of the children.”
    A. The exile process from Vancouver and from Slocan is not discussed until the last minute.
    B. The family keeps secret the status of Mother and Grandmother Kato in Japan; meanwhile, Mother and Grandmother Kato had asked them to.
    C. The status of relatives’ health is kept secret from the children.
    1. Grandpa Nakane’s health and death are a secret.
    2. The seriousness of Father’s health conditions are minimized.
    3. The Kato family’s extinction in Nagasaki is kept secret.
    D. Naomi’s choice to be silent about sex abuse by Old Man Gower.
    E. Obasan’s silence—both as a conscious choice and result of old age.

    III. Silence results from racism and government regulations targeted at Japanese.
    A. Visitors disappear from the Nakane home in Vancouver.
    B. Naomi’s schoolmates reject her at the bathhouse in Slocan.

    IV. Aunt Emily reacts to silence with “noise” and communication.
    A. Belief that the truth will set you free.
    B. Urges family and Naomi not to bury the past.
    C. Contrasts with Naomi’s attitude that the past can’t be changed and is not worth studying.

    V. Conclusion: Silence is an imperfect method for dealing with difficult information or trauma.

  • Topic #2

    The treatment of Japanese people by Canadian and American governments during World War II is considered, in retrospect, a shameful act. The internment and exile of Japanese Canadians demanded more than a physical exile of the Japanese Canadians. It also led to racism and had far-reaching psychological effects on the culture. Trace the methods with which the Japanese were treated as an inferior race within Canada during the 1940s.

    I. Thesis statement: The Japanese internment resulted in more than just physical isolation and had far-reaching economic and psychological effects.

    II. Social change toward the Japanese Canadians.
    A. Media reports become slanted with anti-Japanese-Canadian rhetoric.
    B. Japanese-Canadian media disappears, leaving the community with no voice or ability to communicate.
    C. Children taunt Stephen at school, telling him he’s dirty and bad.

    III. Physical separation.
    A. Creation of a “protected zone” in which Japanese-Canadians couldn’t live, located within western Canada.
    B. Creation of jail and other holding spaces until Japanese chose to leave the protected zone.
    C. Not-so-subtle invitation from the Canadian government for the Japanese to leave not just the coasts but the country.
    D. Separation of families and friends from one another, with no way to communicate for long periods of time.

    IV. Economic degradation.
    A. Confiscation of property.
    B. Confiscation of media outlets.
    C. Difficulty securing non-“camp” labor.
    D. Eventual forced labor in difficult conditions.

    V. Changed social attitudes about life as a Japanese-Canadian person.
    A. Racism at school and in town.
    B. Differences between Naomi and Stephen (who chose to “Americanize” himself).
    1. Stephen’s anti-Japanese stance.
    2. Naomi’s resentment of Mrs. Barker’s patronizing apology for what has happened to the Japanese Canadians.
    C. Pride (or not) about Canadian heritage.
    D. Resulting damage for the Nisei generation.

    VI. Conclusion: The internment by the Canadian government isolated the Japanese both physically and psychologically.

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