When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka

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Student Question

How does the lack of specific identities in When the Emperor Was Divine affect the reader's relationship to the characters?

Expert Answers

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The major characters in Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine remain unnamed for the entirety of the novel.  Otsuka creates these ambiguous identities so that they symbolically represent the larger group of Japanese Americans who suffered during the internment in the 1940s.  Rather than seeing the novel's major characters as individuals, the reader thus relates to the characters as broadly constructed identities.  So, the mother could be anybody's mother, the son anybody's son.  Although the story is fiction, Otsuka uses the family to represent a possible scenario that could have occurred during the internment.  In the end, the reader does not relate to the characters as individuals but sees them as representative of a greater body of people.

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