Chapters 1-14: Questions and Answers
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...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Chapters 15-23: Questions and Answers
1. The King bird is an imaginary creature who judges others’ truthfulness, especially in children. Why does Naomi become preoccupied with the bird after she and her friends think they see him?
2. During the mid-1940s when Naomi lives with her family in Slocan, she is old enough to notice that her questions go unanswered or are not addressed directly. Name at least two examples of questions no one will answer for her.
3. What does the word “wagamama” mean, and in what instances does it apply in Naomi’s life?
4. On the train to Slocan, Naomi and Obasan pay attention to the young mother of a newborn baby, noting she lacks the resources to care for him. How does this scene contribute to the image of Japanese Canadians?
5. As the novel progresses, Stephen’s affinity for music makes itself known. How does Stephen’s interest in music serve as a creative outlet for him?
1. Naomi is aware that information is being withheld from her, that the adults and Stephen know things she doesn’t about others’ health and whereabouts. But she also has a growing sense that there is a moral question regarding the withholding of information: Is it a lie if people omit the truth, versus telling you false information? The silence in her home makes her wonder about this.
2. Naomi wants to know where her father is and what TB (tuberculosis) is, but is told only that the family must pray for her father and that tuberculosis is an illness some people judge. She is never told whether her father has tuberculosis, though readers may recognize that his persistent cough and references to his health in other chapters indicate he might have the disease.
3. “Wagamama” is a Japanese word for selfish and inconsiderate, and Naomi is taught that if she is too persistent in asking questions of others, especially her elders, it is...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
Chapters 24-39: Questions and Answers
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?
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...
(The entire section is 818 words.)