John Hersey
Contributed by Fernande Huls
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How do Hersey’s six subjects display different ways of coping with tragedy in the years following the bombing?
In the aftermath of the attack on Hiroshima, the six subjects all lead very different lives that reflect both their personal differences from each other, as well as the varying ways of internalizing a tragic event. Some find that the best way to move forward is to remember what happened, by constantly engaging with victims and working to better their lives. Both Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge do this, through fundraising and efforts to spread their faith. Others, like Dr. Sasaki, find that remembering is too painful. Dr. Sasaki moves his practice and tries to change his life after he finds that treating hibakusha is too overwhelming for him. For still others, coping with tragedy involves leading a purely selfish and hedonistic lifestyle; one could argue that Dr. Fujii’s life of partying and self-indulgence is a product of the shock of being given a second chance at life. All of these are legitimate ways of reacting to a dramatic disaster such as the bombing.

Why does Hersey not take a more anti-American sentiment in this piece?
Though it employs the strategies of New Journalism and is told like a work of prose, Hiroshima is primarily a factual account that is meant to report the truth as it happened. It is subjective in that it relays the feelings and emotions of its subjects, but it does not take a strong stance against the United States’ decision to use the bomb. This is fitting with the widespread Japanese reaction to the tragedy: people were more focused on recovering rather than on hating America, and the general mentality was one of pacifism and reconciliation, not a desire for revenge. Many also understood that they had been fighting a total war, and thus they had to expect any kind of attack. Thus, Hersey’s piece is more a general statement against the horrors of war in general, not a condemnation of the individual decisions made in this particular one.

Why is it important to the narrative structure that the subjects’ stories converge in Asano Park?
Mr. Tanimoto, Mrs. Nakamura, and Father Kleinsorge all end up in Asano Park in the hours immediately following the bombing. This is significant because it allows readers to see how the subjects relate to each other both as victims and as neighbors, helping each other and leaning on each other whenever necessary. This is true of Asano Park as a whole: it represents the setting where victims from all walks of life converge, stripped of the precious distinctions that social class, occupation, gender, or age would have given them, focused solely on the two very human experiences of grief and survival.

How does faith play a role in the survivors’ stories?
In the aftermath of a tragedy, faith can be both an uplifting force and a crushing force: people look to a higher power for comfort and hope, but they also wonder how any god could allow them to suffer like this. For this reason, John Hersey chooses two subjects, Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge, who are men of faith. Their experiences, along with Miss Sasaki’s later in life, generally support the idea that faith is powerful in a positive way during disaster. Faith drives both Mr. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge to selflessly help their neighbors in the immediate hours following the bombing, and later to help the hibakusha in the years to come. Miss Sasaki is initially skeptical, but Father Kleinsorge helps to show her the powerful healing that religion can provide her, and she eventually converts to Catholicism and becomes a nun. Faith is important in all of these people’s lives, just as it is important to many people following a disaster or war. 

How does Japanese culture color the way survivors cope with the bombing?
There is a prevailing sense of shame and honor in Japanese culture, as pointed out in the experience of Mr. Tanimoto: he thinks it is shameful that he is uninjured while so many others are dead or dying. This means that the Japanese victims of Hiroshima did not make a show of their suffering; instead, they endured their pain in silence and stoically attempted to help others. This cultural norm translated into Japanese people’s acceptance of their surrender; they viewed it as a sacrifice they had to tolerate for the sake of peace in the world, rather than a terrible disgrace.

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