Chapters 1-14: Questions and Answers

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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: “Everyone someday dies,” and “There was no knowing,” and “Everything old.” She also shows how Obasan, through physical action, usually refuses to sit or sleep, opting instead to remove mud from shoes, cut bread and pour tea, or sweep invisible dust. Obasan’s occasional bits of speech are about the death of people or things, or the disappearance of information. “Everything is forgetfulness. The time of forgetting is now come,” she says. It is as if Obasan, by frequently repeating how much she doesn’t know, protests too much: she has chosen not to know, she has repressed information and has become, in turn, repressed.

5. The Canadian government confiscates property, requires Japanese Canadians to carry identity cards, shutters the Japanese press, removes their radios and televisions, isolates them in makeshift prisons until they make arrangements to travel inland, and minimizes the negative treatment of the Japanese Canadians in the press. The government does not take special measures to keep families together and spends great sums to send Japanese Canadians east into the interior of Canada—or even further east, on planes bound for Japan.

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Chapters 15-23: Questions and Answers