When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka

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In When the Emperor Was Divine chapter 3, how does the boy cope with feeling separated from his past and society?

Quick answer:

In chapter 3 of Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine, the boy copes with feeling separated from his past and society through words. He says the emperor's name "quietly," he reads his father's letters, and he writes his name in dust. By speaking, reading, and writing, the boy shows that he still has the power to connect to his pre-camp identity, even if that power is fleeting and elusive.

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In the third section—or "chapter"—of Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine, we learn about life inside the internment camp from the boy's perspective and how he deals with being separated from his culture and tradition.

One way the boy holds onto his cultural identity is through resistance. The boy's mom warned him not to mention the name of the Japanese emperor. If the guards hear it, they might think that he and his family are somehow working for Japan. But the boy rebels against his mother. As Otsuka writes:

Whenever the boy walked past the shadow of a guard tower he pulled his cap down low over his head and tried not to say the word. But sometimes it slipped out anyway. Hirohito, Hirohito, Hirohito. He said it quietly. Quickly. He whispered it.

Even though he's only saying the name "quietly," this small act allows the boy to maintain a bond with his cultural identity while combating the punishment that the American government is trying to impose on him because of his ethnicity.

Another way the boy holds on to his pre-camp life is by reading his father's letter. A lot of the letters are censored, but, as Otsuka tells us, "Always, they were signed, 'From Papa, With Love.'"

One more way that the boy confronts trying to preserve his identity is by writing his name using the dust on the table. Of course, the next morning his name is gone. Does this mean his identity is gone? Or is Otsuka saying something more about the elusive nature of identity? These would be two interesting ideas to think more about.

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