When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka

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In chapter 1 of When the Emperor was Divine, was the woman a suitable narrator? Why did Ostuka use different narrators in each chapter?

Quick answer:

Yes, the woman was a good choice to be the narrator of chapter 1 of Julie Otsuka's novel When the Emperor was Divine. She is the one who keeps the family together when they are sent to the internment camp, so it is appropriate that she begins the story. The author switches perspectives to give a fuller picture and understanding of the story.

Expert Answers

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In the 2002 novel When the Emperor Was Divine, author Julie Otsuka tells the story of a Japanese-American family who are sent to an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Otsuksa splits the novel into five sections, each one focusing on a different family member. The book begins with the mother/wife character. It is likely the Otsuka begins with her because she is the one who keeps the family together and really steps up both during and after their time in the camp. The father, by contrast, is broken by his time during the camp and has trouble readjusting to "normal" life. Otsuka may also have chosen to begin with the woman because male narrators have tended to dominate fiction, and Otsuka may have wanted to present a fresh voice for readers.

Otsuka gives each member of the family a chance to tell part of the story and be the "hero" of the narrative, as it were. There is the mother, father, son, and daughter. Changing perspectives in a novel is a very modern device (see William Faulkner), and it attempts both to capture the complexity of the story and take into account how no two people see an experience the same. It also can make a novel more interesting, as the reader is getting a multitude of voices rather than just one.

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