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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary
devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Although we never get to know any of the people who died
when the bomb detonated over Hiroshima, every character we meet
inevitably has had to deal with the death of close family members
and friends, as well as being surrounded by death on a massive scale. Most
of the deaths in the book take place out of sight. Mrs. Nakamura’s
noisy neighbor is there one minute, gone the next; the severely
burned people that Mr. Tanimoto helps to the shore one night are
drowned by the next morning. But even though Hersey does not give
the reader many direct views of death, its presence pervades the
narrative. There is a constant, oppressive, and almost suffocating
feeling that death is all around.
The fact that the six main characters of Hiroshima survive
the bombing by chance speaks to the power of chance in their lives. Whether
they attribute their survival to fate, luck, or a higher power, the
fact is that all six were just as vulnerable to the bomb as the 100,000 people
who died. Mrs. Nakamura was one house away from her neighbor who
was killed instantly; Dr. Sasaki could have been on a later train;
Dr. Fujii could have drowned; Miss Sasaki could have been completely
crushed by the bookcase that fell on her; Father Kleinsorge could
have been outside the mission house if he were feeling better. Any
of them could have died when the typhoon swept through the city
a month later. As Hersey presents the story, none of the characters
question their fates, struggle with survivor’s guilt, or reinvent
themselves after the bomb. Throughout the narrative there seems
to be a basic acceptance of the fact that life is capricious and
random. The bomb made no value judgments about whom or what it destroyed,
and the people do not seem to make value judgments about who survived—the
catastrophe just happened. As Mrs. Nakamura says about the bomb
in Chapter Four, “Shikata ga nai,” or, “It can’t
Starting with the “noiseless flash” and continuing through
the lingering effects of radiation sickness forty years later, the
people of Hiroshima are faced with many unexplained phenomena. In
the days after the bomb hits, nobody knows what could have caused such
tremendous destruction. Theories are developed and explored, but
mostly people are left with ignorance and confusion for an entire
week, until the news starts to spread that it was an atomic bomb.
Yet even when the facts are out, since this was the first atomic bomb
ever used as a weapon, nobody—the Americans, the Japanese, or anyone
else—has any idea as to what the short- or long-term effects will
be on the land and the people. Doctors are faced with baffling symptoms,
such as the spot hemorrhages, and injuries that will not heal, such
as Father Kleinsorge’s cuts. Seemingly healthy people, such as Mr.
Tanimoto, are overcome by exhaustion; Mrs. Nakamura’s hair starts
to fall out; and wildflowers begin to proliferate amid the ruins.
Compounding the effects of the deaths and devastation is the fearful
lack of knowledge about what is to come, and insecurity regarding
the future health of the city.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hiroshima!