As we’ve been reading Otsuka, I’ve noticed that the trees and shade may be symbolic of peace and normalcy. On the coast, the family has trees and shade, and this seems to represent for them a sense of life, hope, and peace. In contrast, trees cannot survive in the barracks, and they emphasize that there is no shade. When the community plants trees, they are trying to regain some normalcy, but they do not last the winter. The death of the trees shows that no matter how hard the community tries, they cannot escape the fact that they are being held like prisoners. This emphasizes the family’s dehumanization. What do you think of trees as a symbol?

Trees and Shade in When the Emperor was Divine
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2 thoughts on “Trees and Shade in When the Emperor was Divine

  • October 4, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Ooh, I kept thinking of the ocean as a symbol for a lot of the same things, but trees definitely fit in there as well, especially in the internment chapter. Just thinking impressionistically.. Trees = life, renewal, beauty, the strength or room or resources to grow, light as a source of strength. The ocean = freedom, beauty, open spaces, open air.

    Two things denied to them in the desert. And your point about the trees in the internment camps and what that indicates is on the money. It corresponds biologically to what trees would do in the desert, sure, but it’s also a hard truth for the audience. There are ways of attempting to preserve normalcy in this kind of human rights violation but there is no way to attain happiness, no way to regain what’s lost, no way to grow what cannot grow.

    So to summarize: trees as a symbol? yes, and I’m very upset.

  • October 6, 2019 at 3:47 am

    I definitely think nature throughout the book is a symbol of that American dream that everyone talks about with white Pickett fences and nice houses. There’s a lot of recurring “natural” symbols that can be found. I say “natural” and not necessarily nature because there are things that I am thinking of like the stone that the boy keeps in his pocket, the turtle, the horses but then I am also thinking of things like flowers and trees and grass. They act as a really nice comparison, both textually and visually with the descriptions of the camp when they arrive with the dust and barrenness. I definitely agree with Katia mentioned about what can and cannot grow. I think about this and the turtle in-particular for some reason. And maybe like the stone doesn’t grow and its one of the only “natural” symbols that remains?

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