Obasan Chapters 24-39: Questions and Answers
by Joy Kogawa

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Chapters 24-39: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Obasan is a story told through the voice and eyes of Naomi and in many ways is about Naomi, yet the book is named after her aunt. Why has Kogawa named her book Obasan? What does Obasan represent?

2. The central event that frames the novel is the death of Uncle, Obasan’s husband. What symbolic significance does this death have in the book, and how does the family’s reunion to mourn Uncle create an opportunity to mourn other events in the book?

3. Why might a Grand Inquisitor be prying open Naomi’s eyes and her mother’s lips in her dream?

4. What is the significance of the chapter in which Naomi speaks directly, addressing her mother by name? How does it parallel the work of Aunt Emily?

5. At the close of the novel, Kogawa encloses the text of a memorandum several Canadian politicians signed in April 1946 calling for an end to the “Orders in Council” endorsing mistreatment of Japanese Canadians. The memo compares the Canadian government’s actions to Nazism. How were the orders like Nazism? How did they differ?

Answers
1. As a character, Obasan chooses to respond to racism against Japanese, the internment, the family’s struggles with health, the family’s separation, and death with silence, which she bears with stoicism. She and the others choose this approach “for the sake of the children”: they choose to show love with silence. But this form of self-preservation is difficult for those who choose it. Obasan shows little emotion, and at the story’s end, and when Obasan can barely cry, Naomi realizes how weary she is from living a life where emotion and history are hidden. Obasan’s pain is a metaphor for what Naomi must break through in order to understand her family’s and culture’s history; like Obasan, Naomi has often been silent and numb about her past. Finally, caring for Obasan following Uncle’s death is a metaphor for the care that the family must take in mourning the many deaths and the negative history in World War II that they haven’t recognized.

2. Uncle’s death creates a rare family reunion among the living Nakane and Kato relatives, and thanks to a visit from Nakayama-sensei, the secret that the family had long kept from Naomi and Stephen as children is allowed to finally surface. Naomi and Stephen learn that Mother and Grandma Kato traveled from Tokyo to Nagasaki and were there during the U.S. nuclear attack on the city; Mother and Grandma Kato survived, but barely, and took a vow of silence to not discuss the trauma they’d experienced with the rest of the family back in Canada. Grandma eventually decided the family should know and wrote letters that were not translated to the children until the reunion surrounding Uncle’s death. Thus Uncle’s death became a mourning for the death of their extended family, the silence between Mother and Naomi and Stephen, the plight of the Japanese in Canada, the fact of World War II, and, especially, Obasan’s silent, stoic repression of her long-held grief.

3. Naomi has longed to hear word from her mother—if not from her mother directly, then...

(The entire section is 818 words.)