Chrissy PaoliniObasan Object Essay The Role of Letters in Obasan Although Naomi is thirty-six in the present day of Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, she still has unanswered questions about her childhood. Naomi, who grew up in Canada during World War II, suffers from not knowing about the loss of her mother. When Naomi finds the letters Aunt Emily wrote to her mother, she starts to see how the events of World War II differed from how she viewed them as a child. Aunt Emily, in her letters, combines the events in Canada with her emotions. When Naomi reads the letters, she knows exactly how Aunt Emily was feeling during the catastrophe.
In Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, Kogawa uses letters to reveal Aunt Emily’s character, to recall the events of World War II in Canada and to unleash Naomi’s emotions. Although the main purpose of the letters is to tell her sister of the events going on in Canada, they also serve to give Aunt Emily a personality. As Aunt Emily writes the letters, she tells her sister about the difficult emotions that “were never intended for Stephen and [Naomi]”(279). Because Aunt Emily experiences the events of World War II first hand, she wants to “carry on the fight”(41) about the Canadians’ poor treatment to their own people.
In the letters, Aunt Emily describes how the RCMP forces “friends of long standing [to] disappear overnight”(104). Aunt Emily, after surviving World War II, became “one of the world’s while blood cells” (41) so that she could rescue people in distress. Although her own country treated her poorly, Aunt Emily still believes that people “should always keep hope”(114). Although she remains scarred from the events of World War II, Aunt Emily still hopes that those events will be justified. Through the letters of Aunt Emily, Naomi relives the events of her past with a deeper understanding.
While Naomi reads the letters, she learns why the other Canadians believed the Japanese Canadians were “being very well treated” (102) which she did not understand as a child. Aunt Emily’s letters explain how the Canadian government uses the Japanese Canadians as “scapegoats to appease [the unknown]”(105). Aunt Emily also explains how the Japanese Canadians were “like a bunch of rabbits being chased by hounds”(107). These letters help Naomi remember events that confused her as a child. For example, when Dan was arrested, Naomi realizes that the cop took a few jabs at him” (110) because he was Japanese. Finally Naomi understands how the people trapped in the labor camps were “stripped of all privacy”(116). The letters show Naomi the real events that her family shielded her from during World War II. Naomi begins the novel as a closed off individual with no relationships outside of her family, while reading the letters Naomi begins to unleash her emotions. Before Naomi reads Aunt Emily’s letters, she is surrounded by “a silence that will not speak” (preface). Naomi always asks questions about her past while “expecting no response” (31).
Naomi, filled with dullness, stops asking questions. She bottles her curiosity instead of looking for answers. Naomi, after finding the answers, starts to feel emotions other than dullness. For example, when Naomi realized that places like the “Pool” and “Sick Bay” were prisons, she felt disgusted that people could be “kept there like animals” (92). After Naomi reads of what happened to her mother, she is “not thinking of forgiveness”(288) towards the government like she thought. Naomi, after unleashing her emotions, suddenly sees that her mother “remains in the voicelessness”(289).
Finding that her mother represents the silence, Naomi listens to hear her mother. In conclusion, the letters Aunt Emily wrote to Naomi’s mother play a crucial role to the novel Obasan by Joy Kogawa. The letters show Aunt Emily’s character, retell the events of World War II for Japanese Canadians and help Naomi find the answers that her family would not tell her. Although the letters were intended for Naomi’s mom, not herself, she still finds them extremely helpful in finding the answers to her confused childhood.