1. From Stephen, Naomi learns that “we are both the enemy and not the enemy.” She considers the double message a riddle. Explain how a family of Issei and Nisei—Japanese-born citizens living in Canada, raising Canadian-born children—might be seen as “both the enemy and not the enemy” in the eyes of society at the time World War II broke out. Point out examples from Aunt Emily’s diaries and news clippings, and explain how the change in society effects both Stephen and Naomi and how the family handles it.
2. Aunt Emily is depicted as an angry, highly verbal woman who is always communicating—gathering information, writing letters, attending conferences, amassing evidence. But does her anger serve her or impede her progress? Explain how Naomi feels about this, and contrast Aunt Emily’s behavior with that of the other family members introduced thus far. What does it say about Emily—and about the other characters—that she is so angry and emotional about the status of the Nisei in Canada and the rest of the family is so passive?
1. In the middle chapters of Obasan, Naomi grows increasingly aware of ways in which she lacks perspective on the world and that her acceptance of the inadequate information she has been given has misguided her. Trace the unanswered questions that lead her to conclude she isn’t fully aware of what is happening, and explain how this affects her emotionally. Highlight the issues of her mother’s and father’s whereabouts, what she is told about TB, her musings on King bird, and her impressions (versus experience) of Rough Lock Bill in developing your response.
2. Obasan is a frame story—it starts at one point in time, returns to a prior point in time, then returns to the time established at the launch of the book. Explain how Obasan’s structure as a frame story functions, and why it is necessary for the reader to delve into Naomi’s remembrance of the past. Why is it important for Kogawa to present the information contained in the novel in the order in which she has organized it? How will Naomi’s discoveries shape and develop her character, and how does that take place in these chapters?
1. Compare and contrast Naomi’s attitude toward Aunt Emily at the beginning of Obasan and at the end of the book. How do they differ with regard to history as a “living” entity in their lives? How do they differ in temperament? Does Emily’s push to “tell the truth” create pain or catharsis for Naomi, or both? Does the truth set Emily free?
2. Throughout Obasan, Naomi and Stephen develop different attitudes about their status as Japanese Canadians. How do they differ in their approach? Provide examples of the conscious and unconscious choices they make in terms of their relationship to their elders, the language they use, food they eat, their customs, and where as adults they work and live. How do their choices reflect their comfort levels with their Japanese-Canadian heritage? What do their choices say about how they have responded to the prejudice shown the Japanese in Canada throughout the book?