Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The blanket of new greenery that Miss Sasaki finds breaking through the ruins of the city in Chapter Four is both a symbol of renewal and regeneration as it is an ironic symbol of man’s simultaneous achievement and failure. While people like Miss Sasaki will take years to heal their bodies and minds, nature is not conquered or cowed by the bomb.
Dr. Sasaki spends much of his time after the bombing trying to remove the thick, ugly scars called keloids that have grown over bad burns suffered by bomb victims. In time, he and the other doctors come to realize that much of their work has done more harm than good. In this way the keloids symbolize the continuous difficulties the people of Hiroshima have in trying to deal with the damage wrought by the bomb. They are overwhelmed and confused by the attack and its biological and social aftereffects. The keloids also play an important role in the sad story of the Hiroshima Maidens, the young, scarred women who are taken to the U.S. to get plastic surgery. When they return to Japan they find that they have become objects of “public curiosity” as well as “envy and spite.” There are many social effects of keloids: employers do not want to hire people with such scars, and people do not want their children to marry people who possess these symptoms of radiation sickness. The keloids mark people as survivors of the attack, and they serve as a reminder of the destruction. These scars are a glaring physical symbol of both the damage inflicted by the bomb and the naïve ineptitude of those trying to heal Japan’s wounds after the war.
Although in many works of literature water is a symbol of purity and life, the water in Hiroshima is a cause of death and disease. When Mrs. Nakamura and her children drink from the river, they end up vomiting the rest of the day because it has been polluted. Mr. Tanimoto expends all his energy transporting injured people across the river to Asano Park, but many of them end up drowning in the rising tide. Floods from a terrible storm wash away hospitals, houses, and bridges that had survived the bombing. Because of these disasters the water in Hiroshima becomes a symbol of the invisible pervasiveness of devastation. Something that is supposed to be pure and uncorrupted—something that should give life—is instead causing death and destruction. The fact that the bomb is able to spoil something as elemental and natural as water speaks to its unnatural power.