Obasan’s House

Obasan’s house symbolizes Obasan herself. It is filled with clutter that to the outside eye might look like trash, but is actually a collection of carefully arranged and catalogued objects. Some objects will be reused for the sake of thriftiness, others remind Obasan of some episode in her life. The old rubber ball, for example, is a toy that survived Naomi and Stephen’s childhoods, seeing them through many painful moments before winding up in Obasan’s home. The library of objects reflects Obasan’s library of memories. And the old, creaky house represents Obasan’s advanced age, her frail body. After Uncle’s death, Naomi briefly wonders whether Obasan could move in with her. The idea seems impracticable, however, because Obasan’s identity is so wrapped up in her home. The house, Naomi says, is Obasan’s “blood and bones.”


The spiders in Obasan’s attic symbolize memory. The first two spiders scuttle up when Obasan accidentally brushes their web as she searches through a box, just as memories float up uninvited, triggered by related memories. The spiders are quick, almost violent, just as Naomi’s recollections seem to take on a life of their own, running unbidden through her mind. After she sees the first spiders, she looks up and sees the vast “graveyard and feasting ground combined” that stretches across the ceiling. Naomi’s experience of underestimating and then understanding the number of spiders foreshadows her experience with her own memories, which come slowly at first and then overwhelm her. Like the spiders, the memories are dangerous, and Naomi treats them just as she treats the spiders: with a mixture of reverence, fear, fascination, and repulsion.