Obasan Chapters 1-14: Questions and Answers
by Joy Kogawa

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Chapters 1-14: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. The book’s first section offers several instances of foreshadowing that hint at discoveries the narrator will make later. Give at least three examples of foreshadowing.

2. Upon learning she must travel to Granton for her uncle’s funeral, narrator Naomi says she is not in a great hurry to see Obasan. Why is this?

3. Characters throughout Obasan—including Obasan and Naomi—have trouble speaking about the past or breaking their chosen silence about the past. Cite examples of their reticence or inability to access the past and what this says about them.

4. Obasan is an elderly woman who is not always lucid. How does Kogawa nonetheless find a way to depict Obasan as a character?

5. The Canadian government slowly begins removing Japanese-Canadians’ liberties. Trace the steps the government takes and how this isolates the Japanese Canadians.

1. Uncle’s distress after Aunt Emily’s visit and the way he asks Naomi how old she is, noting she is too young, foreshadow the family conflict surrounding telling the children what happened to their extended family in Japan. Aunt Emily asking Naomi if she wants to know the whole truth foreshadows the fact that there is a “whole truth” waiting to be told. Obasan’s search for documents indicates that they contain significant meaning.

2. Obasan, due to her age, is both slightly deaf and blind. She is frequently silent, stubborn, and communication with her is difficult for Naomi. Naomi is also frustrated by the way in which Obasan never answers her questions, or seems to ignore them, which reminds her of the helplessness she felt as a child growing up in a silent and secretive home. Naomi remembers asking Obasan what happened to her mother and never getting any information.

3. Kogawa’s prologue to the novel speaks extensively of silence. “I am aware that I cannot speak,” admits Naomi. As a teacher, Naomi notes that people who speak of their victimization are rarely as damaged as they claim, while those who are silent have likely suffered the most and might have the most to say. She also observes that Obasan’s form of grief is her silence.

4. Kogawa uses repetition, letting Obasan repeat the same handful of phrases over and over again, like a trauma victim:...

(The entire section is 560 words.)