Chapter Five: The Aftermath
Chapter Five is actually a postscript written forty years after the original edition. It traces the six characters’ lives in the years after the bomb.
Many employers are reluctant to hire people with A-bomb sickness in the years after the war, and as a result, Nakamura-san (as Hersey now refers to Nakamura) faces tremendous poverty and difficulty for a long time. She ends up working for thirteen years at a mothball factory, and when her son Toshio begins working to support the family, she is finally able to retire. Once her children marry and move away, Nakamura-san lives off her pension. In 1975 a new law is passed, granting a monthly allowance to her and to other victims of the atomic bomb. She begins to live comfortably, taking up dancing and embroidery, and forty years after the bomb, she dances along Peace Boulevard in a flower festival in Hiroshima.
In the years after the bomb, Dr. Sasaki spends most of his time at the Red Cross Hospital dealing with keloids—red, rubbery scars that grow over the bad burns of many of the hibakusha (a Japanese word for the victims, literally “explosion-affected persons”). In 1951, haunted by his awful experiences there, he quits the hospital and eventually sets up a private clinic in Mukaihara. Tragedy strikes Dr. Sasaki’s life again, however. In 1963 he nearly dies when an operation to remove one of his lungs goes awry; in 1972, his wife dies of breast cancer. These two experiences drive him to devote his life to his work. He uses the success of his clinic to build bigger and better medical facilities, and forty years after the bomb, we find him working as hard as ever to help people.
Father Kleinsorge becomes a Japanese citizen and takes the name Father Makoto Takakura. He never gets over his radiation sickness and eventually works himself to exhaustion trying to help and convert people in Hiroshima. In 1961 he moves to a tiny church in Mukaihara, where he begins a close friendship with his cook and eventual nurse, Satsue Yoshiki. His health continues to fade, and in 1976 he falls on an icy path and fractures vertebrae in his back. He is bedridden from then on and dies in 1977 with Yoshiki-san at his side. Hersey notes that there are almost always fresh flowers on his grave.
Miss Sasaki, now Sasaki-san in Hersey’s narrative, works in orphanages for a time and has three operations to help repair her leg, which never fully recovers. With the urging of Father Kleinsorge, she takes her vows in 1957 and becomes a nun, Sister Dominique Sasaki. She has a distinguished career and travels around the world. In 1980 she is honored at a dinner in Tokyo; in her speech she declares that she had been given a “spare life” when she survived the atomic bomb and she vows to “keep moving forward.”
Dr. Fujii rebuilds his Hiroshima clinic in 1948 and lives by the idea that pleasure—drinking, partying, and playing golf—is the best cure for pain. He travels to New York with the Hiroshima Maidens, unmarried young female burn victims who require plastic surgery. In 1963, he is found unconscious with a heater leaking gas into his bedroom. He is taken to the hospital, and after a few weeks of apparent recovery, he suddenly lapses into a coma. He remains helpless and unresponsive until he dies in 1973.
Mr. Tanimoto vows to work for peace for the rest of his life, and travels to America to give speeches and raise money for a peace center in Japan. He makes contact with the prominent author Pearl Buck and the editor Norman Cousins. Cousins includes Tanimoto’s peace memorandum, under the title “Hiroshima’s Idea,” as an editorial in the Saturday Review. With Cousins’ help, Tanimoto makes a name for himself in America, gives the opening prayer at the U.S. Senate, and even appears on the television show “This Is Your Life.” The producers take him by surprise by having him appear with one of the pilots of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb. He and Cousins also take up the cause of the Hiroshima Maidens, although this ends up backfiring on Tanimoto, and many people in Japan and America label him a publicity seeker. At the end of the chapter, his peace center is little more than an adoption agency run out of his home, and he is retired from the pulpit, living off his pension with his wife.
Each of the characters whose stories Hersey traces shows a different aspect of postwar Japanese life. With Nakamura-san’s story, Hersey chronicles the plight of the hibakusha, who receive almost no help from the Japanese government in the postwar years. Not until 1954 is any kind of political action taken on behalf of the victims. Even then, many people, such as Nakamura-san, are reluctant to become involved in the politics of the movement. She does not even begin using the medical benefits given her until ten years after they are available. It is almost as if she, along with many others, resents her own government and wants to make it by herself.
Cold-war politics play a big role in Hersey’s narrative style in Chapter Five. Mr. Tanimoto’s story in particular is crosscut with important milestones in the nuclear weapons race among America, the Soviet Union, India, and others. These facts heighten the futility of what Mr. Tanimoto tries to accomplish with his peace project, especially since the Red Scare made even the best-intentioned peace efforts dangerous. In a reprinted memo from Tokyo to the American Secretary of State, Mr. Tanimoto is labeled as a possible “source of mischievous publicity” in his efforts to raise money for the peace center, and another memo from the American Consul General says that Mr. Tanimoto might “pursue a leftist line.”
It is ironic that Mr. Tanimoto is now thought of as a threat in Cold War America, since his peace project could not be more pro-American. In the speeches he delivers in America, he describes America as “the greatest civilization on earth” and thanks the country for its generosity. His speeches imply that he and Japan were thankful for the bomb. Again, while Hersey does not blatantly state his own opinions, he provides us with a picture of a country that is either passive about the bomb, like Nakamura-san, or that blames its own leaders for involving the country in a “rash and doomed aggression.” Moreover, a number of the characters, such as Dr. Fujii, Sasaki-san, and Mr. Tanimoto, form close ties with Americans in the postwar years.
This portrayal is not disingenuous; it is true that the general spirit in the postwar years was one of reconciliation with America, and not hostility. Nonetheless, it is interesting that he did not find or include a single person who criticized the decision to drop the bomb, or one who still harbored resentment for President Truman or the American government. In the last chapter, Dr. Sasaki expresses his desire to put the Americans on trial for war crimes. We wonder whether Hersey found such voices but decided not to include them, or whether he is intentionally trying not to rock the boat after forty years of goodwill and cooperation between the two countries.
Hersey does not erase the memory of the bomb, however, and his notes about the escalation of nuclear development among the major superpowers are important reminders that another such tragedy could happen at any time. The effects of the bomb continue to touch the lives of many Japanese in significant ways. Mr. Tanimoto’s daughter Koko, as a hibakusha, must have a checkup every year at an American clinic, and when she is an adolescent, she is ogled by the doctors as she stands naked. Later, she is unable to marry the man she falls in love with because his father forbids his son to marry an A-bomb victim; when she does eventually marry and become pregnant, she has a miscarriage and has to adopt. By including these stories about Koko, Hersey reminds us how the bomb’s effects persist for generations.
Stylistically, Chapter Five is a break from previous chapters in that it tells each story completely, with no crosscutting from character to character. Whereas each previous chapter took place in a relatively short period of time, the postscript covers the characters’ lives in the last forty years. Thus, Hersey’s project in 1985 is significantly different from that of 1946; here he attempts to give as complete a portrait as possible of each individual character. As a result, one might argue that his style is less successful because it tends to be more inclusive than selective—he includes many random details about a character’s life instead of keeping only details relevant to the experience of the atomic bomb. On the other hand, one might also argue that the last chapter is a more impartial account because it involves fewer authorial decisions. When writing the first four chapters, Hersey first had to narrow his characters down to six and then decide which moments of their experiences he was going to include, and in what fashion. In the fifth chapter, however, he seems to directly report more of what these characters tell him.
Hersey’s most stylistically interesting section in Chapter Five is the final one, in which he intersperses Mr. Tanimoto’s story with facts about worldwide nuclear development. These facts heighten the pace of the section and remind us of the urgency of the threat of nuclear warfare. Moreover, his inclusion of other voices—the Tokyo government and the American Consul General—provides a valuable outside perspective and gives us a clue to the kind of Cold War paranoia that can silence those who, like Tanimoto and Hersey, want peace. The last paragraph of the narrative, when Hersey describes Mr. Tanimoto’s cushy life, can also be read as a political jibe at the complacency of today’s citizens. About Mr. Tanimoto he notes, “His memory, like the world’s, was getting spotty.”
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!