The bomb had not only left the underground organs of the plants intact; it had stimulated them.

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Some weeks after the explosion, three of the main characters fall victim to radiation sickness. Father Kleinsorge is walking through the city to deposit money in Hiroshima when he suddenly becomes weak and barely makes it back to the mission. Mrs. Nakamura’s hair begins to fall out, and she and her daughter become ill. At the same time, Mr. Tanimoto, weak and feverish, becomes bedridden.

Miss Sasaki is transferred to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima and placed under the care of Dr. Sasaki. Dr. Sasaki notices small hemorrhages all over her bare skin, a mysterious symptom many of his patients are beginning to show. He later discovers that this is the result of her low white-blood cell count, another symptom of radiation sickness. Dr. Fujii is living at a friend’s house in nearby Fukawa and is beginning to treat patients again.

In early September, nature itself seems bent on destroying what remains of Hiroshima when heavy rains result in floods. Dr. Fujii must evacuate his friend’s house when the river floods and washes the house away—water claims Fujii’s residence just a month after his clinic fell into the river.

Radiation sickness baffles everyone well into September and afterward. In the next few months Mrs. Nakamura and Mr. Tanimoto gradually get better, but Father Kleinsorge continues to have a high fever and low blood cell count, and he is sent to a hospital in Tokyo. The doctor there predicts he will die in two weeks, but Kleinsorge lives, his blood count swinging wildly up and down and his cuts constantly reopening. He becomes a curiosity in Tokyo, and once his fever is gone and his health relatively stable, he is interviewed by curious doctors, experts, and newspaper reporters.

In Hiroshima, as Japanese physicists make observations about the blast area, Dr. Sasaki and his colleagues develop new theories about radiation sickness by observing their patients. Miss Sasaki’s infection lingers on eleven weeks after the bomb, and she remains in the hospital through November. She becomes extremely depressed, especially since her fiancé will not visit her. Father Kleinsorge, who has since returned to the city, comes to visit her in the hospital. For the next several months, Miss Sasaki seems to draw strength from the priest. By the end of April her infection is gone and she is able to walk on crutches.

One by one each of the characters, like Miss Sasaki, begins to resume some sort of a normal life. Dr. Fujii opens a new clinic and capitalizes on Japan’s new visitors by treating American patients. Father Kleinsorge and another priest commission a three-story mission house exactly like the one they had lost; Father Kleinsorge eventually becomes so busy that he falls ill again and must return to the Tokyo hospital to rest. Mr. Tanimoto attempts to restore his own church in the city, but he does not have as much money as the Jesuits. Mrs. Nakamura, when her hair has grown back, scrapes together her money and rents a small shack near the site of her old house, while putting her children back into school in Hiroshima. Dr. Sasaki, after almost never leaving the hospital building in the four months after the blast, begins to focus on his own life and marries in March.


In thinking of their experience of that time Dr. Hiraiwa repeated, ‘What a fortunate that we are Japanese! It was my first time I ever tasted such a beautiful spirit when I decided to die for our Emperor.’

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Hersey’s narrative is compelling because he shows the events following the bomb through the personal experiences of witnesses. Through the eyes of Miss Sasaki, for instance, we learn that the bomb has somehow greatly increased the growth of vegetation throughout Hiroshima, and that wildflowers and weeds—the panic grass and feverfew that give the chapter its title—have burst through the ruins to give the city a “vivid, lush, optimistic green.” Miss Sasaki describes a powerful image—nature takes over where civilization has been destroyed—but Hersey does not delve into the image deeply in his own voice.

As Hersey’s characters slowly rebuild their lives in Hiroshima, we also learn about the extent of the damage and the blast, based on reports of Japanese physicists in the weeks and months that follow. As in other chapters, Hersey mentions these facts only in passing, so he does not distract attention from his human stories, but these reports are noteworthy for the kinds of information they contain. Most of his American readers in 1946 knew little about the bomb. The accounts of the Japanese physicists, which were heavily censored at the time, suggest the bomb’s absolutely awesome power—the enormous heat generated at its center, and its ability to melt the surface of granite thousands of yards away. The flash generated by the bomb was so bright, notes Hersey, that it left shadows of buildings and even human silhouettes imprinted on walls. Moreover, the Japanese scientists discover that the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, a plutonium bomb as opposed to a uranium one, was even more powerful, and that the Americans are capable of developing one that is ten or even twenty times as powerful. In short, Hersey makes it clear to his readers that this is not like any other air raid or attack; the atomic bomb should give everyone in the world something to worry about.

Hersey’s own political agenda still remains unclear in Chapter Four. While Hersey includes a number of vivid details and accounts, we should also note a phenomenon that is absent from his story: any kind of serious anti-American feeling in the wake of Hiroshima’s destruction. Mrs. Nakamura develops a bitter hatred of Americans when she believes that they have dropped a poison on the city; but when this rumor turns out to be unfounded, her hatred quickly fades away. Later she tells Hersey that the general attitude of the Japanese is a kind of grim acceptance: “It was war and we had to expect it.” Mr. Tanimoto writes a letter to an American friend with a kind of pride in the way the Japanese reacted. He describes a father and son consecrating their lives to their Emperor, or two girls who sing the national anthem as they are crushed under a fallen fence. Hersey notes that there is a “curious kind of elated community spirit” among most of the survivors of the blast. Out of all the voices in Hersey’s account, only Dr. Sasaki seems to maintain any sort of bitterness toward those who dropped the bomb.

The end of this chapter, which was the end of the original edition of Hersey’s book, includes somewhat ambivalent and ambiguous accounts. Father Siemes, in his letter to Rome, offers a detached view of the tragedy, proposing that total war—a concept promoted by the Japanese in World War II—will necessarily include war against civilians. Such a view would no doubt be amenable to Americans who support the decision to drop the bomb. Toshio Nakamura’s account of the day of the explosion is also short of moral judgments and instead offers an impressionistic view of the day. Just as he has done throughout the book, Hersey lets the image speak for itself: a ten-year-old boy who progresses from eating peanuts in the morning, to seeing “burned and bleeding” people walking around, to meeting a child his own age whose mother is dead.