Analysis

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.