Throughout the novel Obasan, Joy Kogawa uses symbolism to communicate short but important messages to readers conveying the various themes of the novel. One main idea expressed through images and symbols includes the deterioration of conditions for the Japanese Canadians as they are stripped of their human qualities and ostracized because of their different appearances. Another major theme accommodates family structure, the significance of family in the novel and shows the differing personalities of each member, which assists the reader in creating a better understanding of Naomi's character. Furthermore, Kogawa connects biblical concepts to the novel to assure faithful Christians of rewards that come after the suffering, hardship, and persecution that was faced. Joy Kogawa uses symbolism and imagery to illustrate a deeper, more profound meaning to the hardships set upon the Japanese Canadians, Naomi's authentic family, their roles and values, as well as present biblical connections which assist in developing the storyline of Obasan.
Joy Kogawa uses symbolism to allegorize the dehumanization set upon the Japanese Canadians and to place the readers into their shoes. She uses symbols to portray the overall theme of the novel, racism/discrimination, and to show the dominance and power the Canadian government had attained over the Japanese. For example, Naomi places a dozen chicks, one by one, into a cage where a hen is kept.
[...] This photograph symbolizes the meaning of family to Naomi. When she looks at the image, she describes all the details she sees. All her family members represent the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei generations and Stephen represents new life to the family as he is described as a “freshly baked (19). She identifies her mother and father and then shortly moves onto her two aunts, Obasan and Emily. Naomi had lived with her uncle Isamu and Obasan practically her whole life. [...]
[...] This basically means that only through hardship and suffering will one receive the true blessing and peace from all the troubles caused. It assures and encourages Christians to keep a strong faith and to believe that one will receive a reward. refers originally to the foods provided to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness. It symbolizes Christ, the bread of life coming down from heaven. It is the reward that the Israelites received when they were suffering in the desert and in context of the novel Obasan; it is the rewards the Japanese receive, peace. [...]
[...] This not only shows racism, but also the anger, which the Japanese community posses because of the suffering that they are put through. These young boys are filled with such resentment and rage as they take place in this gruesome act. “Simply killing the poor animal is not enough for them; they have got to make it suffer” (169). Joy Kogawa also expresses prejudice, even in something so minor and meaningless as the two spiders Naomi and Obasan discover while fumbling through the attic. second spider is lighter in color, its legs more muscular, striped and tapered. [...]
[...] The baby chicks represent the innocence of the Japanese minority in Canada as they faced humiliation and segregation. They were yellow and delicate; likewise the color representing the Asian/Japanese color. “Eventually some of the yellow chicks are left dead, some wounded and some unscathed” (63). This scene demonstrates the painful deaths of the chicks and also reveals the merciless brutality the world pours on its minority population. The white hen is a symbol of the Canadian government or the position of power, while the yellow chicks are the victims of this power. [...]
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