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Hiroshima by John Hersey | Summary and Analysis

Summary of Hiroshima by John Hersey

Hiroshima by John Hersey, narrates the experience of six individuals who survived the deadly and tragic bombing of Hiroshima in Japan. It is written in third-person perspective and switches regularly but deftly between the lives of each of the six characters. Hersey explores their stories from separate, personal perspectives but skillfully merges them at common points, such as meetings or interactions. In doing so, he presents an extremely important message- the similarities and differences in each individual’s experience. The different ways in which they observe and interpret their surroundings, the way their background influences their course of action, how their pain and suffering is so similar, yet so incomparable. This provides a realistic image of the situation- all the survivors suffer a similar fate, whether it is emotional or physical struggle. Yet every single one of them has their own story, their own battle. It reiterates the fact that something as horrifying as the atom bomb is what unites these six survivors, forming an inexplicable bond and sense of community.

Hersey employs imagery, metaphors, narration, dialogue and description in this piece. He also sets a tone of suspense and emotional pain and numbness- yet he manages to balance this with shreds of hope intertwined into the words of suffering. The descriptions and imagery are particularly important, as they play the biggest role in conveying to the readers the physical devastation of the bomb. There are elements of irony throughout the piece, and Hersey also uses situational context and emotional depiction to portray the level of guilt felt by the relatively uninjured. This is very important to note, as along with the physical pain and psychological trauma, there is an amount of survivor’s guilt which makes it more difficult for the six survivors to put themselves and their health first.

The piece is split into five parts. The six individuals whom the story focuses on are Miss Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masazaku Fujii, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.

The story is also split precisely- the first chapter revolves around the setting of the situation and the introduction of the characters. The readers get to know their backgrounds, as well as what they were doing at the moment the bomb was dropped. The various descriptions of the moment also build the feeling of tense fear in the reader and prepare them for the vivid imagery of destruction that is to come. The second chapter focuses on the immediate course of action of each of the survivors in the minutes and hours after the bomb blast. This presents a realistic view of the chaos and confusion that one could not even begin to imagine. The third chapter is about the following few days in which the survivors attempt to make sense of what has happened, treat their injuries, and create a structure in which to help as many people as possible. And finally, in the fourth chapter, we see the city of Hiroshima, as well as the six survivors this story is about, attempt to put their life back on track and take care of themselves. It takes the readers through an entire year since the incident, showing us the struggles that came with the aftermath and the efforts that were taken to move forward.




Hiroshima by John Hersey | Summary


Part One A Noiseless Flash | Summary

The first part focuses on the very moment where six survivors of the bomb blast in Hiroshima (individually) escaped the bomb and survived the tragedy. Starting with Mr. Tanimoto, a small man with a wife and child- his wife and child often commuted to the neighboring city, and on the day of the bomb blast, he was alone. Despite being cautious, Mr. Tanimato had been preparing and moving his items to a friend’s house, which was in a safe area. The morning of the bomb blast, he rose early and made his own breakfast, before he and his friend, Mr. Matsuo, pushed their handcarts through and away from the busy city of Hiroshima. When he saw the lights flash, indicating the bomb, Mr. Tanimoto and his friend reacted in terror, diving between the rocks in the garden and under the bed respectively. He did not see what happened, for his eyes were closed, but he felt the rubble falling upon him. He heard no sound. When he opened his eyes again, the house was in shambles, and he realized Mr. Matsuo must be under it. Mr. Tanimato ran into the streets, and saw Japanese soldiers coming out from dugouts in the ground, which had been made to avoid the explosion. They were supposed to be safe, but they had blood running from their heads, and the day seemed to grow darker under the heavy cloud.

Meanwhile, the midnight before the bomb, Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura- a tailor’s wife with three children, used to doing what she was told- got her children ready and walked with them to the military area at the edge of the city. They slept there and woke up to the roar of a plane over Japan, after which they walked back home. The children looked so tired that she decided not to make them walk to the edge again. They slept in their house and did not awake for the next plane roar- instead, they awoke to a siren. She was told to remain at home, so she busied herself and fed her children peanuts. Her husband had been sent to Singapore for war, and had died the day it fell- she has not had an easy life. As she stood watching her neighbor, who was tearing down his home in panic, there was a flash. Her motherly instinct urged her towards her children, but the force threw her back- and when freed herself from the rubble at the sound of one of her children’s cries, buried till her breast, she realized she could not hear anything of the others.

Dr. Masazaku Fujii, on the other hand, has always woken up quite late in the morning- but on that day, he woke up early to travel for work. His wife and children were safe, as they all lived outside Osaka. He was reading the newspaper when the bomb was dropped, and he saw the flash. His hospital collapsed and fell into the river, and with the force, so did he. He thought he was dying, when he realized two timbers had kept his head along suspended above water, rendering him unable to move. His shoulder was hurt and his glasses were gone, but he was alive. In contrast to his rather active nature, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge was feeling unwell the morning of the blast. He usually went outside to see if there were plane-alerts after the alarm, and thought nothing would happen because on that day he saw only one weather plane. When he saw the flash, Father Kleinsorge was on the third floor, sitting in bed in nothing but his underwear, reading his Stimmen der Zeit. He doesn’t know how he escaped the house- it was all a blur, and then he was running through the garden with cuts on his leg. He only realized later that all the buildings had fallen except their own mission house, because an earlier priest who was afraid of earthquakes had double braced it, and that the maid was crying for Jesus to have pity on them.

The fifth person, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, was travelling back to Hiroshima from the country, where he lived with his mother. He felt uneasy because he just had a terrible dream the night before. He reached the hospital and drew blood from a patient, and was walking with a sample in his hand when the bomb was dropped and the flash spread. He ducked down in front of the window he was near and told himself to be brave as his glasses were thrown off his face and the bottle of blood crashed against the wall. Patients and doctors were screaming, running, either injured or dead. Dr. Sasaki found himself to be the only one in the hospital who was unhurt. He believed the bomb had only hit his building, so he immediately began using supplies to tend to the injured around him. He did not know that the entire Hiroshima was suffering outside the walls- and his private nightmare seemed like nothing in comparison to this.

The final person, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, was a clerk who got up at 3 am on the day of the blast to complete household work. She had to cook breakfast for herself and her entire family before heading to the funeral of a navy officer who had committed suicide. Then, she headed to her office and sat at her desk, among the bookshelves and furniture. Just as she was planning to chat with another girl, turning away from the window, there was a flash. Miss Sasaki was thrown askew- she lost consciousness as the furniture in the room fell on top of her. Her left leg was twisted under the weight, and she was caught under a bookshelf.

Hiroshima Part 1 Analysis | A Noiseless Flash

The main theme of chapter one is destruction and the uncertainty of life. We are introduced to six characters who seem completely normal, and they are going about their everyday life ordinarily. The sudden, unnerving shift in their narrative because of the bomb- turning them from normal people to injured survivors of an atomic bomb blast- puts into perspective the fleeting nature of life, and how quickly it can be snatched away. This is further emphasized by the descriptions of dead bodies, which clearly highlights the six characters’ survival. More importantly, this introduction makes it clear that this story is more than numerical data. It delves into the true, personal lives of people who have had indescribably difficult experiences. It brings to life what readers may have seen in the news or the media.

All six people describe the blast with the words “flash” or “light” which acts as a primary uniting factor between them- the fact that they had all witnessed the moment. The biggest foreshadowing comes from Dr. Sasaki, who in the first chapter just the night before the bomb, had a very disturbing nightmare. The nightmare itself had nothing to do with the bomb blast, but the uneasy feeling that came from it was a hint at the real-life nightmare that was to come. It also helps to level events into perspective. He was feeling uneasy about a nightmare, but when the bomb blast took place, he realized that that was nothing compared to what had just happened. This signifies how quickly things are put into perspective when life is threatened- the biggest worries cease to be worries at all. Here is where we first see themes of life’s fleetingness and uncertainty. In just one moment, people lost everything- their lives, their loved ones, their livelihood.

Hiroshima Part Two Summary | The Fire

As soon as Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto ran into the streets, he was greeted by a scene of utmost terror and chaos, from children to the elderly in shock and pain. He tried to help as much as he could carrying children on his back and helping an old woman. He was shocked to see the dark clouds of smoke, the after effects of the blast. He heard his friend, Mr. Matsuo called out to him asking if he was alright- luckily, he had been cushioned by bedding and was not killed by the wreckage. But Mr. Tanimoto’s mind was completely on his own wife and children, his home and his church. With this thought in mind, he began running towards the city in fear.

Similarly, Mrs. Nakamura’s mind was only on her children. As she uncovered the youngest from the rubble, she heard the voices of the other two. All three of her children were dirty and bruised, but unhurt- all of them were only in underwear, and she began to pile clothes onto them irrationally. As they walked forward, she saw that the person who had sacrificed his home for others’ safety was dead, and his baby was cut. Mrs. Nakamura did not have band aids, but she crawled back to her house and pulled out white cloth. On the way, she saw her sewing machine- the symbol of her livelihood and safety. She knew she could not carry it with her, so she dumped it into the cement tank of water in front of her house. Finally, carrying her items, she and her children leave for an evacuation estate by Kyo River. They pass by the Jesuit mansion, and Mrs. Nakamura catches sight of Father Kleinsorge running out in just his underwear, a suitcase in hand.

Father Kleinsorge and another Father began to help the people around them who were buried in rubble. He uncovered the Hoshijima woman and her daughter, neither of them being badly hurt, and heard of a doctor a few blocks away who had bled to death. He then hurried back inside to fetch some of his belongings which he wanted to save. At this time, two other Fathers wanted to go to Dr. Fujii’s hospital, as they were spurting blood- but it had been completely destroyed, and there was fire surrounding it and blocking their path. Dr. Fujii’s hospital is indeed in shambles. At the location, the doctor himself is puzzled and disoriented for twenty minutes. He and his colleagues observe people with burns and scratches, wondering what happened. Dr. Fujii notes the heavy winds and the constant bursts of fire, quickly helping as many injured people as he can. Several of the hospital nurses and patients died, and Dr. Fujii never saw his niece again. As they waited for the fires to die down, he came to know that the only uninjured doctor at the big Red Cross Hospital was Dr. Sasaki.

Dr. Sasaki was working without structure- he was trying to tend to everyone he could, but eventually prioritized the ones who were the worst injured. Thousands of people were pouring in, there were cries everywhere asking him to help the ones who were severely injured. He lost all sense of sympathy and professionalism and almost became like a machine, automatedly going through the medical procedures. However, the luxury of hospitalization is not available to everyone- at that very moment, Miss Sasaki (not related to Dr. Sasaki) was unconscious under piles of furniture and bookshelves for three hours before she opened her eyes. It was pitch black and she felt pain on her leg, so sharp that she thought it had been cut off below the knee. Eventually, she felt movement above her, and several people, all caught beneath the debris, began crying for help.

Back to Father Kleinsorge, he was still helping people as best he could- a woman begged him to help her husband who was trapped under the house, and there wasn’t much time as the houses were all burning. They were not able to find him, and had to run before the fire spread. Then, Kleinsorge saw his secretary, Mr. Fukai, Mr. Fukai, standing at his second floor window. People thought he was not running down because the stairs were unusable and went to fetch a ladder, but Kleinsorge knew the stairs were functional. He climbed to the second floor, but Mr. Fukai was adamant on being left there to die. With the help of another Father, they managed to haul Mr. Fukai down, but in a split second of being left free, he turned around and ran back into the fire.

Meanwhile Mr. Tanimoto is running through the streets. There are injured people all around him, burned and screaming and vomiting, and he prays for them, feeling ashamed of being so uninjured. He managed to find his wife and their infant son, but despite his relief, he was so emotionally tired that he could not muster more than a monotonous acknowledgement of their safety. She also seemed emotionally numb as she explained how they managed to survive, and told him she was heading back to Ushida. Mr. Tanimoto told her to take care before hurrying to his church to take care of anyone there. Many people reached out, begging for water, and because of his urge to help them all it took him longer than usual to cross towards the church.

On his arrival, he saw his acquaintance, Father Kleinsorge, who informed him that Mr. Fukai had run back into the fire. Miss Sasaki was being helped out of the bookshelves at that time. Her left leg was broken and crushed, hanging limply below her knee. She was helped into a shed, where she met two other people whose injuries were equally bad, if not worse. In the night, the smell of hot iron and three wounded people began to smell quite bad. The former head of the Nobori-Cho Neighbourhood Association had boasted that even if a bomb hit Hiroshima, it would never reach Nobori-cho. However, his house was destroyed and people were running past him- including Mrs. Nakamura with her children and Father Kleinsorge with Mr. Fukai on his back. He, too, began running, through the fires which he thought could not reach him. Two months later, the impact of the shock caused him to start behaving like an old man, and his hair turned white.

Dr. Fujii stayed in the river to avoid the fire’s heat for some time. When he finally emerged, he saw the terrible condition of the people around him, and the pain of his shoulder seemed like nothing compared to it. Despite the terror around him, he was ashamed of his appearance as he lied down with some others- he looked ragged, like a beggar. Then, with some other nurses, he began walking towards his family home. On the way, they found bandages which the nurses tied for him. When he reached his home, he saw that the roof had fallen through and the windows were broken.

Throughout the day, people were pouring into Asano Park, and Mrs. Nakamura and her children were among the first to arrive. They drank from the river to quench their thirst, and then started vomiting immediately. Horrified, Father Kleinsorge, who had just entered the park and saw them, does whatever he can to help. He later mentions to the other priests that it is odd how what he considered his most important positions yesterday no longer matter now. At that time, Mr. Tanimoto reached the park as well, basin in hand. It was not an easy sight to see, so many in pain but still bowing in gratitude when Father Kleinsorge handed them water. He made his way to greet the priests and provide water for his acquaintances in his basin. He realized by the fire that he would not be able to reach his church after all, and decided instead to use a boat on the river to help people escape the fire and reach the safety of the park. He had to remove five dead men from the boat, and despite them not being able to hear him, he felt horror at disturbing them and asked their forgiveness as he did so.

Soon, the fire began to spread towards the park. With the help of all the other people there who were able, Father Kleinsorge and Mr. Tanimoto managed to put out the fire within two hours. However, during the fire, people mobbed too close to the river and a few people fell in and drowned. In the aftermath, people sat with their head in their hands, unable to digest the death of their loved ones and the fear of their current plight. Just moments later, it began to rain. It turned into a whirlwind storm, so heavy that it blew buildings and trees askew, and it took hours for the storm to die down as everyone hid under bushes or garments. Once it subsided, Mr. Tanimoto started ferrying people again in the little boat.

Father Kleinsorge asked his students to use the boat to go to Nagatsuka and call the priests so that they could help the older Fathers travel across. He extended the invitation to Mrs. Nakamura as well, and it was decided that she and her children would be taken there the next day. Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge, along with some others, were also able to find pumpkin and rice, enough to cook and feed a hundred people. They came across a few acquaintances who had lost their husbands and children- one of which had been Mr. Tanimoto’s neighbour, Mrs. Kamai, who was cradling her dead infant in her arms. Her husband had enlisted in the army just yesterday, and with the collapsed barracks, there was little chance of his survival, or even finding him. Nonetheless, she implored Mr. Tanimoto to try, because her husband loved their baby and she wanted him to see her just once

Hiroshima Part 2 Analysis | The Fire

In the second part, Hersey continues with his descriptive yet direct approach. Though the piece contains a great amount of personal details and emotions, the almost matter-of-fact telling along with the occasional outsider perspective to convey factual information or overarching narrations forms a solid journalistic structure. In this chapter, the words help us picture vivid images of natural disasters caused by the blast- fires, floods, and storms. It is as though we are seeing the power of nature over humankind, but ironically, this storm was caused by a man-made weapon. The fact that most lightly injured survivors’ immediate response here is to do whatever they can to help the wounded speaks a great deal about the unity that springs up in times of need. We also see that most survivors’ first reaction is a feeling of numbness. This is a realistic reaction that is often not captured by media or other retellings- before pain, sadness, grief, or anger, there is fear and numbness. It is these two that propel them to move forward and keep their mind in its survival instinct.

Another aspect of this chapter is confusion and chaos. Despite the cleanly written piece, Hersey conveys the amount of havoc taking place in Hiroshima. Each of the six survivors believe there is a different reason for the flash of light, none of them know exactly what is going on. There is mayhem everywhere and nobody to help them, no sense of organization. In this crucial moment, they are left alone with minimal supplies, and they scatter in disarray to manage to the extent they can. In this process, seeing dead and injured people becomes almost routine. We see this in the way the survivors’ reaction to wounded bodies changes as they continue to treat people. Another aspect is that of shame- Mr. Tanimoto, despite all the suffering around him, felt ashamed of how shabby he looked. This highlights how inherently well-off he had been prior to this, and how, even when it is all stripped away, his original mindset comes seeping back in. Another type of shame is that of a survivor- Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge both express their shame at being so uninjured. This is coupled with guilt– it is as though they wonder why, out of the thousands of people, they were the least injured.

This chapter is dominated by injury and death. The death of so many people causes an almost automated emotionlessness amongst the survivors as they see body after body and have not had the time to process the situation. We may assume that this emotionlessness is the subconscious coping mechanism that the mind employs to keep the survivor from suffering overwhelming amounts of distress at such a vulnerable and crucial moment. We see this when Mr. Tanimoto finds his wife and infant alive and safe, yet their greeting to each other is not joyful or even an expression of relief- it is straight-faced and restrained, as though they are unable to muster more. The theme of death here does not only imply human death- it is the death of the city. Hiroshima was described beautifully by Hersey, especially in the first chapter. Now, seeing it completely destroyed and in ruins signifies more than just the death of the population. It is the death of the lifestyle, the routine, and the physicality- all of which will take anywhere from months to years to repair, and which will always hold a traumatic scar that the bomb has left behind.


Hiroshima  Part Three Summary  | Details Are Being Investigated

In the early evening of the day of the bomb blast, news was received that a naval hospital ship would soon arrive to treat those at Asano Park, and everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief. The theological students of Father Kleinsorge had finally returned with the priests to evacuate Father LaSalle and Father Schiffer. Later, they managed to rescue two young girls who were badly burnt, and in the night one of them complained of feeling cold. Despite being covered by a blanket, her shivering persisted and she quietly passed away. Mr. Tanimoto continued rescuing as many people as he could, sometimes disturbed by the extent of their injuries- skin slipping off and faces turning yellow. As he walked in the dark, he once more felt ashamed of his uninjured state.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fujii lay in his family’s now roofless house, examining his injuries. Had they not been so severe, he may have been able to help the people at Asano Park. Similarly, Dr. Sasaki was also not at the Park, but wandering aimlessly at his practice among the terrible scene, still working mechanically. After 19 hours of continuous work and no rest, he cannot dress another wound. Back at Asano Park, Father Schiffer and Father LaSalle were finally lifted, with great difficulty into the carts and taken away through the bumpy roads. And while they had people to aid them, thousands didn’t, including Miss Sasaki. She was stuck under the tin shelter, unable to sleep due to the pain of her broken leg. At the Park, nobody was able to sleep well, and with every glance, there seemed to be more injured or dead bodies.

Early the next day, on August 7th, a radio broadcast announced that Hiroshima had been hit by B-29s. None of the survivors heard a later announcement by the American President, who said that the bomb had more power than twenty thousand tons of T.N.T. Mr. Tanimoto expresses his anger towards the doctors, asking one of them why they are not tending to the heavily wounded at Asano Park. The doctor explains that in such situations, they must tend to those who are slightly injured, as they have a higher possibility of surviving- after all, the heavily wounded will die in the end, and nothing can be done to prevent that. Mr. Tanimoto doesn’t know what to do, and feels angry at himself, for he had promised the injured medical aid and they might die feeling cheated.

Father Kleinsorge finds straws to provide water for those whose faces were impacted by the blast. He once used to feel queasy at the sight of wounds and pain, but now he tirelessly works to help those in need. He speaks to some children who have been separated from their mother. He began to feel tired when a stranger gently offered him tea leaves, and the overwhelming gratitude caused him to weep. He was so used to the slight hatred he had felt as a foreigner, and the gesture by the stranger touched his heart. Eventually, the cart comes to take Mrs. Nakamura to Novitiate. She and her children find out that the rest of their family has been killed. Father Kleinsorge, too, follows, and the last thing he does before going to bed is asking someone to find the mother of those children he had spoken to.

Miss Sasaki was left under the shed for two days until she was found and taken out. She found out that all her family was dead. She thought she was numb to pain, but the sudden movement made her realize that she wasn’t. She fainted twice as she listened to the medics discuss whether to amputate her leg or not. Finally, when she regained consciousness, she was on a stretcher and was about to be sent back to Hiroshima because the hospital was for operative surgical cases only, but when the doctor took her temperature, he decided to let her stay at the hospital. That same day, Father Cieslik ventured back to look for Mr. Fukai. It is revealed that Mr. Fukai had, a few days before the bomb blast, expressed his wish to die with his dying country. The priests concluded that Mr. Fukai did indeed run back into the flames, and he was never seen again.

Dr. Sasaki continues working at the Red Cross Hospital for three days straight with only one hours sleep, and becomes increasingly worried that his mother might think he’s died. With permission, he travels to her house, where she tells him that she knew he was alright, as a wounded nurse stopped by to tell her. He then sleeps there for seventeen hours. Father Kleinsorge had also slept at Novitiate for many hours and woke up on August 9th. He was told that his cuts were clean and not even worth dressing, and he felt an uneasy guilt at it, still unable to comprehend what he had been through. Even after going for a walk and viewing all the wreckage, he returned with no new understanding. On the morning of August 9th, a similar bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, but the people of Hiroshima were not aware until days later because of the caution with which the news was being reported. On that day, Mr. Tanimoto had been speaking to various survivors and listening to their painful stories about losing loved ones.

Father Kleinsorge asked Father Cieslik if he would go and check how Dr. Fujii was doing, and Father Cieslik complied. There, Dr. Fujii told him that he knew the bomb was not a bomb at all, but a fine magnesium powder spread through the city, to explode when coming in contact with the live wire system. Within the next few days, things seemed to reach a sort of routine. Mr. Tanimoto helped the injured for days on end, and on August 11th, read the Psalm to a dying man who had once accused him of being an American spy. That same day, Miss Sasaki was taken to primary school-turned-hospital  in a town to the south-west of Hiroshima, and was kept there for several days until a specialist arrived to treat her leg. Later, back in Asano Park, Father Cieslik found the mother of the Kataoka Children whom Father Kleinsorge had spoken to. A week after the bomb dropped, rumors began to spread about its origin and power.

On August 12th, the Nakamuras moved in with Mrs. Nakamura’s sister-in-law. Mrs. Nakamura travelled to find the rest of her family, only to hear that they had all died. She was in a daze when she returned home and could not speak at all. In contrast to this frazzled state, the Red Cross Hospital started to regain some structure and normalcy. The bodies were being sorted, and the Japanese took it as their moral duty to cremate the dead. Envelopes with the deceased’s names were stacked neatly and sent to the shrine. On the morning of August 15th, the Emperor directly addressed his people to announce that the war was officially over.


Hiroshima Part 3 Analysis | Details are Being Investigated

In the third chapter, we see a slightly more progressive structure in the days following the bomb blast. Official information starts being announced, and the injured are being taken to hospitals. The first chapter provided context for the situation and the six main survivors, and the second chapter focused on the immediate aftermath, the deaths, and the chaos of the very day. Meanwhile, the third chapter revolves around the arrival of help from outside Hiroshima, which was not present in the second chapter. By now, cities throughout Japan have heard about what happened, and official medics start arriving at the escape parks, with the wounded being shipped to different hospitals and treatment centers. This lessens the helplessness felt by the people and increases the spark of hope amongst the wounded.

It is interesting to note that all the informative announcements about the bomb were made through radio just a few days later, because at the time, none of the people of Hiroshima were in the physical and mental state to listen to the news. The information is reaching everyone except those who were primarily affected, which creates a realistic irony. Mr. Tanimoto feels angry when the doctors explain that they are tending to the lesser injured first- but due to the medical reasoning and logic behind their statements, he does not know who to feel angry at. Since he had promised the injured that he would bring medical help, he turned the anger onto himself. This intense emotional projection is a part of survivor’s guilt. He feels increasingly ashamed for being so uninjured in the presence of the dead bodies, and even more disappointed in himself that he is not able to fulfill the one thing he promised. At times where one has survived or escaped a tragic end, their greatest confusion is that they are not able to understand why they were the ones who got the universe’s chance to survive.

This guilt, along with the natural good heart, leads Father Kleinsorge, Dr. Sasaki, Mr. Tanimoto and Dr. Fujii to continuously help as many people as they can, whether it is dressing their wounds or keeping them company or giving them food or bringing them to the escape park. They display a very high moral standard and a very kind heart. We once again see the situational contrast between the characters. Unlike the four of them, Mrs. Nakamura has children with her, and cannot break her role as a mother. And in a totally different situation, Miss Sasaki is severely injured. She is among those who cannot help, because she needs help and did not receive any for days. When another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and then the war was called off, the tipping point for Mrs. Nakamura was the Emperor’s voice making the final announcement. There is a high chance that she may not have believed it at all if it was not a direct address. Further, from her tone, it seems as though he does not often address his people directly, highlighting the magnitude of the situation.


Hiroshima Part Four Summary | Panic Grass and Feverfew

Part four begins on August 18th, with Father Kleinsorge. He travels every day with his now talisman-like papier Mache briefcase to the Novitiate, slowly growing accustomed to the sights he must see on the way. However, one day he is unable to go on with the services, and on checking, it turns out that the cuts which he had been told will heal in a few days had gotten worse. Mrs. Nakamura, too, started feeling the after-effects- despite having no cuts or burns, her hair began to fall out until she was bald, causing her to hide away. She and her youngest daughter began feeling increasingly weak and tired, but her other two children, who had gone through every experience with her, were completely fine. At the same time, Mr. Tanimoto, too, became weak and tired, until he went to bed rest at a friend’s house. Unknown to them at the time, they were suffering from radiation sickness.

Miss Sasaki continued to lay in the hospital, reading a book lent to her by another patient to pass time, though she found it hard to concentrate. She is moved to different hospitals a few times, and notices how strange it is that a new wave of lush greenery is growing despite the wreckage and horror that the city is going through. She is eventually placed at the Red Cross Hospital under the care of Dr. Sasaki. Dr. Fujii, on the other hand, started a new practice in a summer house in Fukawa. However, with ill luck, it was washed away with a flood. A rumour began to move around that the bomb’s radiation would last for seven years and hence nobody could go back to Hiroshima for that time without exposing themselves to radiation sickness. This particularly upsets Mrs. Nakamura, as she had drowned her means of livelihood- the sewing machine- in a water tank in front of her house, and now nobody can fetch it. However, this rumour was later debunked by scientists, around the time when Mrs. Nakamura’s hair started growing back. She sent her brother-in-law to fetch the sewing machine, but it was rusted and unusable. Slowly, she and Myeko rested and felt better, though all three children still had occasional headaches and nightmares.

By the first week of September, Father Kleinsorge was sent to a hospital in Tokyo due to his worsening condition, where he became a subject of interest to everyone- while in Hiroshima, he was one of many who had suffered, in Tokyo he was almost like a celebrity. The doctor predicted his death, saying that all ‘bomb-people’ would die, however Father Kleinsorge continued to recover. Dr. Sasaki, at the Red Cross Hospital, continued to observe people’s symptoms as a result of the bomb’s after-effects, while Dr. Fujii moved to the suburbs in the East of Hiroshima and bought a vacant private clinic there, soon building up a strong practice.

One day, when Father Kleinsorge was discharged, he and Dr. Fujii met on the train for the first time since the bomb blast. They discussed how Hiroshima was becoming busy, trying to repair what had been damaged and bring life into work again. Scientists, too, swarmed into the city to study the aftermath. Late in February, months after the blast, Father Kleinsorge received a call from Miss Sasaki’s friend, who said she was growing more and more depressed due to her crippled leg, and had little interest in living. Father Kleinsorge visited her several times, and she regained hope in the form of Catholicism, and was discharged after a month.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Nakamura’s hair had grown to a presentable length- enough for her to rent a carpenter’s shack in Nobori-cho to call home. Her children went to school, and her oldest son wanted to study abroad. She did not have the money, and consulted Father Kleinsorge, who suggested either working as domestic help or borrowing some money to repair her sewing machine. She chose the latter. Mr. Tanimoto became quite close to Father Kleinsorge, and envied the Church’s wealth- all he had to work with was his energy, less than before. But Father Kleinsorge was working himself too hard, despite the warnings against doing so, and about a year after the bombing, he had to return to the Tokyo hospital for a month’s rest. And with Dr. Sasaki, it took him to recover and put himself first. But he did so eventually, getting married in March and gaining back some of the lost weight.

About a year after the bomb blast, Mrs. Nakamura was a destitute, Miss Sasaki a cripple, Father Kleinsorge in the hospital, Dr. Fujii had lost the hospital he had worked so hard to build, Mr. Tanimoto’s church had been ruined and Dr. Sasaki was no longer capable of what he once was- their lives had changed drastically, going from the luckiest people in Hiroshima to struggling every day. However, they all shared the same sense of unity and elated community spirit- after all, only they could understand what the other had gone through. Just before the one-year anniversary, Mr. Tanimoto expressed his feelings in a letter to an American. Many people of Hiroshima, including Mrs. Nakamura and Dr. Fujii, remained neutral about the bomb, probably too terrified to want to dwell on it, but still possessing a level of fascination with it. Others continued to harbor hatred towards the Americans, Dr. Sasaki being one of them. On the other hand, Father Kleinsorge, as a foreigner, would have a detached view, and often discussed its ethics.

Children had a very different view of what the bombing was- Toshio Nakamura was 10 at the time, and a year later, could discuss it freely, almost as if it had been an unbelievable and exciting event, an adventure. He tells his classmates at school of his experiences on the day- he went for a swim in the morning, ate peanuts, and then saw a flash which threw him across the room. His friend told him to run with her, but he waited for his mother and escaped with his family. Later, he met two of his friends who were looking for their own mothers- one who was wounded, and the other who alas turned out to have died.


Hiroshima Part 4 Analysis | Panic Grass and Feverfew

The fourth chapter stretches from just days after the bomb blast to the first anniversary since the event. It follows the six main survivors in their journey since then, how their lives have changed and what they have done to overcome the pain and work through the trauma. It also deals with the after-effect of the bomb- radiation sickness. Moving on from themes of death, the fleeting nature of life, and emotional numbness, we now see structure, acceptance, hope and faith. After all, there is no other way to move forward and start from scratch than to accept one’s current situation and have hope that better days may come. This holds true especially for Miss Sasaki- as her depression over her crippled leg grows, she converts to Catholicism, which provided a light in her life at a dark time.

Father Kleinsorge, on the other hand, was sent to a hospital in Tokyo. A huge factor to note here is that he was treated almost like a specimen– people were interested in hearing his story, the doctor was skeptical of his survival, the media covered him, and scientists wanted to study him. While in Hiroshima, he was one of many who had suffered, in Tokyo he became an object of fascination. Nobody there had experienced the bomb blast- they had only heard of it on the radio. This section symbolizes the perception of tragedy from an outside perspective. While those in Hiroshima lost their lives and livelihood and are finding it difficult to move past their trauma, the people outside Hiroshima are curious to know more about the incident. To them, though they understand the density of the situation, they are not able to relate or understand enough to curb their curiosity from going too far.

In this chapter specifically, Hersey provides a great amount of statistical and numerical data. This is done to keep in line with the journalistic style of writing, especially since the previous chapter was heavily personal. Further, such information matches the timeline- months after the incident, there has been more time for scientists to research as well as for information to be gained about the bomb. Hence it is a perfect time for Hersey to incorporate such data. The interweaving of the survivors’ stories within these numbers also imply that each person’s individual experience cannot be simplified into mere numbers- their struggles, their stories and their lives are worth more than statistical data.

In this same chapter, Miss Sasaki notices with an almost disturbed shock that lush green grass has begun growing through the ground again. This is a stark contrast to the data about the bomb and the destruction, and such a duality within the same chapter represents the process of moving on and accepting the bomb blast as part of the history. Miss Sasaki’s disturbed and surprised reaction represents the people’s unsureness at whether it is alright to move on when the city and so many people are still struggling. The new green grass poking through the rubble-ridden ground symbolizes a fresh start, a new day and a new hope for the future. Just like how the grass forces its way through the cold, hard ground to grow serenely through the land, people of Hiroshima push through the wreckage and attempt to continue growing and to build their city back to what it once was.

We also see from this chapter that the survivors are mere shadows of the success they once had- for example, Dr. Fujii lost the hospital he had worked so hard to build, and then had lost his private practice to a flood. Despite this, they did not stop living, nor did they give up on the life they had- once again, the theme of acceptance is shown here. They are only able to do their best with what they have because they have accepted the change in their lifestyle and status. Hersey calls them the “lucky ones” and this may be true, because their lives before the bomb were relatively well-to-do, and their injuries afterwards were survivable. They were among those who were able to pick up again, no matter how different and difficult the process was. It is interesting to note that the youth of Hiroshima still have a brighter hope and a larger vision for their future. Mrs. Nakamura’s oldest son wants to study abroad- given the incident which had taken place, one would imagine studying to be the last thing in mind. But as structure slowly falls into place and the people organize a routine to follow, realms of normality settle back into the youth’s minds.

An important and unrelenting debate is the people of Hiroshima’s thoughts about America. Mrs. Nakamura’s family held great hatred for them until the rumours about the seven years of radiation turned out to be false. Mrs. Nakamura and Dr. Fujii both remain neutral, which may surprise readers. However, it must be thought of from their perspective, as well- they may not want to think too long about a topic which caused them such suffering. They may also be curious to understand the phenomenon behind the man-made object which wiped out their city. And overall, the fact that there was a war going on seemed to justify many shocking actions- any decision is usually understood as ‘for the war’ and the other side accepts it as part of the battle. On the other hand, Dr. Sasaki does not let go of his fury about it- the pain and tragedy caused by the atomic bomb was too high for him to view it with neutrality. And Father Kleinsorge, a foreigner, does not view it from any particular bias and hence has conversations about its ethics. The common factor here is that they are all able to think or talk about it to some extent, which in itself must have taken a great deal of mental preparation and acceptance.

All six main survivors whom this story focuses on seem to keep in touch with at least one amongst them- the most common being Father Kleinsorge. The mutual understanding they have from walking through an unimaginable event almost bonds them for life, as it is something not many other people will ever understand. Hiroshima is said to have become very busy- to the point where Father Kleinsorge overworks and is sent back to the hospital in Tokyo to rest- with rebuilding and reorganizing the city. From this, the bond and community spirit of the citizens of Hiroshima shines through- they worked together tirelessly from the moment the bomb blasted and up until the city had to be rebuilt. Even the bodies of the dead were disposed of respectfully. The Japanese felt that it was their duty to cremate the dead. Which is a nod towards not just their morality, but also their unity. The names of all the dead were written in envelopes and sent to the shrine. From that, we may gather that this incident will never be forgotten- the names of the dead have been immortalized on paper by the people of Hiroshima themselves. This symbolizes their immortalization of the memory of the day, something that many might not speak about, but everyone will remember.

This might not be the case for the younger generation, however- Mrs. Nakamura’s younger son seemed quite fine with talking about the events nearly a year later. Though it was said that all three children suffered from nightmares in the aftermath, Toshio Nakamura was able to relay his experiences at school, even recalling what he ate that morning. The element which stands out the most is the normalcy with which he explains that one of his friends’ mothers was wounded and the other dead- usually, these would not be ordinary statements to make. Here, though it seems as though Toshio has moved on and views the day as an adventure, the images he saw did leave a subconscious mark on him- he is able to view and discuss death and fatal injuries with an unbridled normalcy, which can only come from someone who has seen the suffering first-hand and lived the terror of those days.


Click on the Link below to Read the Analysis of John Hershey’s Hiroshima : 




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