Hiroshima by Nam Le
In Hiroshima by Nam Le we have the theme of spirituality, conflict, propaganda, control, loyalty, innocence and honour. Taken from his The Boat collection the story is narrated in the first person by an eight year old girl called Mayako and from the beginning of the story the reader realizes that Le may be exploring the theme of spirituality and a connection with nature through Mayako’s father who is a priest. This may be significant as through the conflict that exists throughout the story (WWII) Le uses references to nature to highlight the role of honour in Mayako’s life. She is not afraid of the Americans and fully believes that Japan will be victorious. Something that historians know not to be true. The setting is important for another reason as there is not only external conflict but there is an internal conflict within Mayako. Who wants to leave the Temple and join the mobilization just like her big sister, Sumi. There is also a presence of control in the story and loyalty to the Emperor. With the majority of the Japanese people believing that the Emperor is always right. This may be important as it suggests a blind allegiance to authority. An authority that cannot be questioned. If anything it is similar to a cult of personality.
The theme of propaganda is also evident in the story. The Americans are dropping handbills on the city and people are not allowed to read them. They do not know what the messages say on the handbills though Mayako thinks that on one side the handbills look like money. This may be important as it suggests that there is an advantage for the Japanese people should they surrender to the Americans. However honour will not allow for the Japanese people to surrender, again they are loyal to the Emperor. Symbolically the fact that Mayako thinks the radio at times is sick is representative of personification. She is too innocent to know that the Americans are blocking the radio signal and what she is listening to is static.
There is further symbolism in the story which might be important. Le uses light or rather the lack of it when there are B-29 bombers in the sky. In many ways the B-29’s act as foreshadowing to what will eventually help to end the war. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Le also uses language, particularly the sound of language (onomatopoeia) and nature to describe the sounds of the planes that are flying over the Temple. Mayako is also relying on memory when it comes to the natural sounds she compares the planes to. She is too young (and innocent) to fully remember what nature really sounds like.
The end of the story is interesting as we know, through the passage of time, that Mayako’s life has been cut short. As mentioned Hiroshima is bombed by the Americans causing great death and devastation. However there is an admirable if not honourable mention by Mayako. Again she wants to leave the Temple and go back to the city with Sumi. However her parents are aware of the seriousness of the situation, having lost their son, Mayako’s older brother in the conflict. Though she may be too young to join the mobilization she wants to be just like Sumi. A young eleven year old girl who has dedicated her life to the Emperor and Japan’s victory.