Racism, Trauma, &
Minorities’ Survival --
1. Prey;
2. Obasan Chaps 1-14
Kate Liu
Outline
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Racism (1): Prey and Reasons for Racism;
Racism (2): Japanese Internment;
Joy Kogawa & Obasan: General Introd.
Obasan
• Examples of Racial Differences and their
Consequences
• Not Enemy Aliens;
• Noami’s treatment of the Past vs. Her Aunts’
M
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Image source: http://canada.gc.ca/canadiana/map_e.html
Prey by Helen Lee
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What causes the conflicts between Noh on
the one hand, and I-Bei’s father and
grandmother on the other?
What are the dangerous moments in this
film and how are they resolved?
What does the title mean? What views of
the Korean are expressed by I-Bei’s
grandmother?
Prey and Reasons for Racism
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The whites as predator? Not always. Sometimes
there can be conflicts between the minorities. (e.g.
LA Riot)
 Images of prey: stolen foods; grocery store broken
open; sex.
 Dangerous moments: two scenes with the gun;
lending the car to Noh;
 Reasons for racism against Asians:
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•
•
Conflicts of interest; (clip 1)
Language
Prejudices
Self-Protection, Racial superiority
The war
Japanese Internment in
Canada
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The turn of the century: early immigrants
(clip 1)
1941, December 7--the bombing of Pearl
Harbor
1942--evacuation of Canadian Japanese
(Nikkei) from the Pacific Coast--the great
mass movement in the history of Canada
(Obasan 92-93)--21,000 people moved
(clip 2 confiscation; clip 3 relocation)
1949--Nikkei allowed to vote and return to
B.C. (clip 4) (Also chap 14 of the novel)
Differences between the States & Canada
U.S.: 1913 -- California Alien Land Law prohibited
"aliens ineligible to citizenship" (ie. all Asian
immigrants) from owning land or property, but
permitted three year leases.
April 1942 -- The assembly centers, relocation
centers, and internment camps were set up, and
relocation of Japanese-Americans began.
Internment camps were scattered all over the
interior West, in isolated desert areas of Arizona,
California, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming.
1944 -- Executive Order 9066 was rescinded by
President Roosevelt,
1946 -- the last of the camps was closed in March.
Differences between the States
and Canada (2)
Canada:
-- Dispersal of family members--men sent to road
camps in the interior of B.C., sugar beet projects
on the Prairies, POW camp in Ontario;
-- not allowed to go back to the West after the War;
-- their properties liquidated.
1.
Differences between the States
and Canada (3)
U.S.
1. 1980 -- President Jimmy Carter signed the
Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
Act – for investigation
2. 1991 – Bush’s letter of apology
Canada
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1980s--redress movement
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1988--formal apology to Nikkei+ $21,000 (Cdn.)
to the survivors
Joy Kogawa--Biographical Sketch
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born in Vancouver, B.C. in 1935
relocated to Slocan and Coaldale,
Alberta during and after WWII
Selected Publications:
Obasan. 1983.
Woman in the Woods. 1985.
Naomi's Road. 1986.
Itsuka. 1993.
The Rain Ascends. 1995.
Awards for Obasan

Books in Canada, First Novel
Award.
 Canadian Authors Association,
Book of the Year Award.
 Periodical Distributors of
Canada, Best Paperback
Fiction Award.
 Before Columbus Foundation,
The American Book Award.
Obasan--Family Trees
Issei. Grandma Nakane
Arrive in Canada 1893;
~ 1945
Ayako
Isamu
(Obasan) (Sam)
1891-
1889-1972
stillborn
Grandpa Nakane
~ 1942
Father
(Tadashi Mark)
Mother
Sansie:
Stephen
Naomi
1933-
Kato
Nissei: Emily
1916-
1936-
Ref. Chap 4; pp. 17-19; 20
Timeline
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1893--Grandpa Nakane arrived in Canada
1941--Mother returned to Japan (clue: p.
20 )
1942--Vancouver Hastings Park prison
1945--the bombing of Nagasaki
1951--moved to Granton
1954--the first visit to the coulee (p. 2)
1972--narrative present--Uncle’s death
Obasan: Time Line & Plot (1)
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1972
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 1954
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Chap 1: 8/9 1972
--1954
Granton

1951(the
bombing of Nagasaki) —
 Chap 2:
9/13, 1972 Uncle’s
death
 Chap 3: back to Obasan’s house,
question about the mother
 Chap 4: memories of the family
(stone bread)
 Chap 5:
Obasan in the attic,
memory as spider
Obasan: Time Line & Plot (2)
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1972
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1941
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Chap 6: nightmare
Chap 7: Emily’s package—her
last visit and the question if Naomi
wants to know “everything”
Chap 8: Obasan lady of the
leftovers
Chap 9: starts to
remember- from the photo to
memories of the house p. 50 —
Chap 10: Momotaro
Chap 11: episodes of the white
chicken and Old Man Gower
Obasan: Time Line & Plot (3)
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1942
train to
Slocan
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Chap 12: —separation starts—
the mother first;
Chap 13: preparation to leave;
Chap 14: bath with Obasan;
Emily’s diary (-110)
Chap 15: leaving for Slocan
Chap 16: the trip to and arrival
at Slocan, Stephen’s reaction
Chap 17: Nomura-Obasan,
Goldilock
Obasan: Time Line & Plot (4)
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1942
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 1943
(attend
school)
Chap 18: Grandma Nakane’s
death, wake and cremation,
 Chap 19: Uncle back, questions
about the father, Stephen out of
his cast
 Chap 20: back to school,
vegetable garden, Rough Lock Bill,
Kenji and the red insect
 Chap 21: Naomi’s drowning
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Obasan: Time Line & Plot (5)
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1943
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1945
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Chap 22 -- experiences of
hospital and deaths (chicken,
kitten)
Chap 23 -- bathing
Chap 24 -- father back
Chap 25 -- prayer before
departure;
Chap 26 -- leaving Slocan
1945 to Alberta Ethridge, and then Granton, Barker
Farm--
Obasan: Racial Differences
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Chap 9 – two languages of eyes;
Negative consequences: Noami’s quietness in the
episode of Old Man Gower;
What is the significance of Old Man Gower
episode? Is Naomi completely defenseless in her
experience with Old Man Gower?
What does she feel about herself while being
molested and afterwards?
How is Old Man Gower related to racism against
the Japanese? Chap 12
Other Influences of Racism
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The family dispersed –
Noami’s sense of guilt and fear;
Noami’s dreams: first one [6] 28-30; second
one: [11] 59-;
Her repression of past memories (later)
Questions
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How does Naomi start to remember?
 What does she remember about
the Vancouver house? Her mother?
And their family?
The Past in Naomi’s memory:
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Chap 9: Photograph
• two languages;
• two spaces -- home and outside
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The house and life in Vancouver
• bathing -- burning but relaxing water; Grandma’s
resourcefulness
• a collage of images
• Mother, father and Stephen
Naomi and goldfish
• The past—drowning whirlpool, Naomi as a fragment of
fragments
Question 2: the significance of the
story Momotaro?
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Both Canadian and Japanese;
Honor and family care;
The other fairy-tales:
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Snow White: end of Chap 11
Humpty Dumpty end of Chap 15;
Goldilock chap 17,
All revisions of the fairy-tales show the child’s
way of apprehending racism and
displacement
• the chicken episode Chap 11
The Past: Different Treatments
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How does Naomi describe herself and the two
aunts? How do they each deal with the past?
 Naomi--sansei--spinster, tense ([2] 7),
 Obasan--issei—
• language of grief--silence ([3] 14);
• ancient; accepting death;
• live with the past ([3]11, 14-16; [5] 25-26 ),
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Emily--nisei—
• energetic, visionary ([2] 8),
• “word warrior” (32), “white blood cells” (34)
• different from Obasan ([7] 32); from Uncle and
Naomi (35-36); /
• Canadian identity--“This is my own, my native land”
Different Generations on
Language and Silence
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“To the issei, honor and dignity is
expressed through silence, the twig bending
with the wind….The sansei view silence as
a dangerous kind of cooperation with the
enemy.”
-Joy Kagawa in an interview with Susan Yim
Historical Reconstructions
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Three ways of dealing with
memories:
• Obasan: ancient woman who stays in
history
• --can be consumed,
• --can make use of the leftovers
• Emily: “The past is the future” p. 42
• Naomi: “Crimes of history . . . Can
stay in history” p. 41
Survival
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Beginning of Chap 15
“We are the hammers and chisels in the hands
of would be sculptors, battering the spirit of
the sleeping mountain. We are the chips
and sand, the fragments of fragments tha fly
like arrows from the heart of the rock. We
are the silences that speak from stone. We
are the despised. . .
We are those pioneers who cleared the bush
and the forest with our hands, the gardeners
tending and attending the soil with our
tenderness . . .
Defense: Not Enemy Alien
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Uncle p. 2; (Uncle Sam, Chief Sitting Bull);
[3] p. 13;
Emily’s article -- [7] pp. 39-40;
Father –before relocation –end of chap 12 p.
70;
Their adaptation to new lives.
For next time -
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From dis-member
to remember
to re-member
Pay attention to the use of imagery:
of animals, fairy tales, fragments,
stone and sea.
Imagery of Stone & Sea
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What is the significance of the stone
imagery?
The bible--“a white stone”--”a new name
written”
epigraph--“The word is stone.”
Uncle’s stone bread
the coulee/ the ocean/ uncle and Chief
Sitting Bull/ the family as a knit blanket
(24-25)
References

Japanese Canadian Internment
http://www.lib.washington.edu/subject/Canada/int
ernment/intro.html
 A History of the Japanese-American Internment
http://www.fatherryan.org/hcompsci/
 Analysis of two apology letters
http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/asian/Article
_Detail.asp?Article_ID=3267
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Fragmentation and Survival