Hiroshima

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The Bookcase Symbol Icon

At the end of Chapter One, Toshiko Sasaki’s leg is crushed beneath a heavy bookcase. The chapter ends with the famous sentence, “In the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.” The sentence is often taken to be an ironic observation about how, with the bombing of Hiroshima, years of scientific research resulted in utter destruction, rather than in the betterment of the human race. In this sense, the bookcase symbolizes the inherent danger and destructiveness of all human knowledge.

The Bookcase Quotes in Hiroshima

The Hiroshima quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bookcase. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Atomic Age, Politics, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Hiroshima published in 1989.
Chapter 1 Quotes

There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.

Related Characters: Toshiko Sasaki
Related Symbols: The Bookcase
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

The concluding sentence of the book’s first chapter is nearly as famous as its opening sentence. Where the opening sentence is fiercely literal, and hits the reader like a gut-punch, this final sentence is more abstract and poetic, resting on a heavily symbolic interpretation of the nuclear age. As Hersey sees it, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is the product of hundreds of years of cutting-edge science and mathematics. And yet all of that human learning didn’t add up to anything positive—instead, the U.S. military used it to build the deadliest weapon in human history. Thus, the image of a human body being crushed under books is tragically apt: Sasaki and the many other victims of nuclear war were “crushed” by generations of accumulated knowledge.

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The Bookcase Symbol Timeline in Hiroshima

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bookcase appears in Hiroshima. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter One: A Noiseless Flash
Survival and Cooperation Theme Icon
...the bomb drops, Toshiko Sasaki is thrown to the floor and loses consciousness. A heavy bookshelf collapses in the explosion, crushing her left leg, so that “in the first moment of... (full context)
Chapter Two: The Fire
Survival and Cooperation Theme Icon
...finds his way into Sasaki’s office. Seeing that Sasaki’s leg has been crushed under the bookcase, he calls some other men to drag her outside, where it is raining. Sasaki’s leg... (full context)