1.) At the very start of the chapter, Otsuka writes: “The boy thought he saw his father everywhere.” Further along down the page, she writes: “For it was true, they all looked alike. Black hair. Slanted eyes. High cheekbones. Thick glasses. Thin lips. Bad teeth. Unknowable. Inscrutable.” Does an internalization of racist ideas concerning the Japanese play a role here? Why does the boy describe Japanese features in a somewhat negative light? Has the boy internalized the ideas that the white population around him, giving him an idea of Japanese features as ugly, strange, undesirable, and intensely uniform? Does the boy’s idea of his father—a figure that has continued to become more and more distant, features more and more faded, as time has gone by?

2.) What is significant about the fact that the girl in many ways create a divide between the her own life in the barracks and the lives of her mother and brother? What effect does this seem to have on the boy? “His sister left the barracks early in the morning and did not return until long after dark. She was always in a rush now. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Out.’ She ate all her meals with friends. Never with the boy or his mother. She smoked cigarettes. He could smell them in her hair. One day he saw her standing in line at the mess hall in her Panama hat and she hardly seemed to recognize him at all.” Why does the girl distance herself from her family? How does the boy perceive this? In what ways does he internalize not only the split in the relationship itself, but the pain that follows? Does the boy gain a feeling of responsibility of caring for their mother, now that it seems to be him alone who knows her?

3.) Much of When the Emperor Was Divine is told in short, episodic, loosely connected scenes (images, conversations, memories, dreams, etc.) that move between past and present as well as between alternate points of view. We talked about the book’s writing structure in class concerning the shifting perspectives and the minimalism/lack of detail, but beyond that, what does the book’s choppy and broken-up writing style do for the storyline? What does it portray about Japanese internment? How does it characterize the characters further? Overall, why has Otsuka chosen to structure her narrative in this way? What effects does it allow her to achieve? What does this writing style portray about the reality of Japanese people in America at this time—enemies of the state, prisoners in their own home, untrusted and despised?

Sarah Parker’s Reading Questions for October 2

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