When the Emperor was Divine

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Girl Character Analysis

At the cusp of adolescence, the girl is inquisitive, friendly, and has a strong American identity: she wears Mary Jane shoes, listens to Dorothy Lamour, and loves American candy. Because she has internalized white American beauty standards, she often looks in the mirror and fears that she is a plain-looking girl. At the internment camp, she goes through the familiar rebellious stages of becoming a teenager. She pulls away from her younger brother and mother—the boy and the woman, respectively—as she spends more time with friends and experiments with testing social boundaries by smoking cigarettes and staying out past curfew. When she returns from the camp, she loses this rebellious streak and becomes obedient, afraid of once again being mistaken for the enemy and being sent back to the camps.

The Girl Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

The When the Emperor was Divine quotes below are all either spoken by The Girl or refer to The Girl. 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:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of When the Emperor was Divine published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She was ten years old and she knew what she liked. Boys and black licorice and Dorothy Lamour. Her favorite song on the radio was “Don’t Fence Me in.”

Related Characters: The Girl
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator emphasizes the total normalcy and "Americanness" of the characters in the novel: here, we're introduced to the Girl, who's totally innocent, but has the misfortune of being Japanese. The Girl loves all-American things, and couldn't possibly be considered a danger to anyone: and yet because of the Roosevelt administration's internment policy, she's sent to live in a camp with her parents.

The narrator's anger is palpable in the dark sarcasm of this passage. "How is it possible," Otsuka seems to ask, "that she could be sent to a camp? What danger could she possibly pose?" And while the girl's "Americanness" is presented as an example of just how far-fetched the racist suspicions of Japanese Americans were, it also shows how fully she has assimilated--she feels little to no connection to the Japanese culture of her parents.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other When the Emperor was Divine quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

In a few hours he and the girl and their mother would wake up and go to the Civil Control Station at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way. Then they would pin their identification numbers to their collars and grab their suitcases and climb up onto the bus and go to wherever it was they had to go.

Related Characters: The Woman, The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Woman and her family prepare to go off and report to the Civil Control Station. The Woman knows that she's going to be sent to the internment camps soon, and she's frightened: still, she doesn't have many other options. She's a law-abiding citizen, and so even when her government orders her to go to prison unjustly, she follows her orders to the letter. The passage is especially chilling because the Japanese internment program occurred at the same time as another forced-imprisonment program that occurred along racial lines--the mass imprisonment of the Jews and other minorities in Hitler's Germany. The narrator subtly emphasizes the similarities between Japanese internment and the Holocaust by noting the "identification numbers" that the Japanese had to wear, and the uncertain future that the Japanese-Americans faced as they climbed aboard mass transportation.

Chapter 2 Quotes

All summer long they had lived in the old horse stalls in the stables behind the racetrack. In the morning they had washed their faces in the long tin troughs and at night they had slept on mattresses stuffed with straw…On their first night there her brother had plucked the stiff horse hairs out of the freshly white-washed walls and run his fingers along the toothmarks on top of the double Dutch door where the wood was soft and worn.

Related Characters: The Girl, The Boy
Related Symbols: Wild and Domesticated Animals
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Japanese-American families are herded into horse stables and treated like animals. They're forced to sleep and live in the same quarters that used to house horses--moreover, the younger Japanese-Americans see evidence of the link between their own lives and those of the horses, as here, the Boy sees the bite marks that the horses have made in the wooden doors of the stables.

The passage underscores the dehumanizing effects of the Japanese Internment program. The Japanese families who were imprisoned during World War Two had committed no crime, and many of them were proud Americans. And yet they were treated like dangerous criminals, and imprisoned for their potential disloyalty to America. In the process, the Japanese came to see that their government didn't think of them as people at all--just dangerous animals.

In the middle of the aisle a young girl of five or six was playing with a dirty doll on the floor. The doll had curly yellow hair and big china eyes that opened and closed.
“What’s your doll’s name?”
“Miss Shirley.” The young girl held the doll up shyly. “Mama bought her for me from the Sears catalog.”
“She’s beautiful.”
“You can’t have her.”
“That’s all right.” The girl continued down the aisle.

Related Characters: The Girl (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a young Japanese girl sees another girl playing with a doll. The doll depicts a beautiful American girl (seemingly named after Shirley Temple, a cute American child-star of the period).

The passage underscores how assimilated many of the Japanese-Americans in the camp became in the years leading up to their interment--which makes the fact that they've been sent to the camp all the more absurd. The passage also shows young people internalizing Western beauty standards: because they're surrounded by American dolls ordered at American department stores, they're subtly taught that whiteness equals beauty, and their aesthetic standards are based on blonde hair and blue eyes--leading to internalized inferiority complexes for those who don't fit into such categories.

“I forgot my umbrella. I thought I brought it but I didn’t.”
His mother gave him an orange. “You can’t remember everything,” she said.
“And even when you can you shouldn’t,” said the girl.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said her mother.
“You didn’t,” said the girl.
“We’ll find you another umbrella when we get off the train,” said his mother.
“We’re never getting off this train,” said the girl.
“We are,” said her mother. “Tomorrow.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Girl and her family are on a train, speeding toward in uncertain future. The Boy notices that he has forgotten his umbrella back at home, and laments this. The fact that Boy is mourning something as trivial as an umbrella reminds us of the fact that the Woman's family has left behind something much more important: freedom. The scene is also poignant because the Girl, cynical and precocious, claims that they're never going to get off the train--they'll be trapped there forever. Childish though the Girl's fears are, they reflect the very relatable fear (surely a very common fear among the Japanese-American families in the camps) that they'd never see freedom again. The Woman acts as a role model for her children, telling them to remain optimistic, even when the future doesn't look good.

She pulled back the shade…and saw a herd of wild mustangs galloping across the desert…The dark bodies of the horses were drifting and turning in the moonlight and wherever they went they left behind great billowing clouds of dust as proof their passage. The girl lifted the shade and pulled her brother to the window and pressed his face gently to the glass and when he saw the mustangs…he let out a low moan that sounded like a cry of pain but was not. He watched the horses as they galloped toward the mountains and he said, very softly, “They are going away.” Then a soldier with a flashlight and a broom came walking down the aisle. The girl let the shade fall back against the glass and told the boy to return to his seat.

Related Characters: The Boy (speaker), The Girl
Related Symbols: Wild and Domesticated Animals
Page Number: 45-46
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the train passes by a herd of wild horses, which the family sees from its train car. The Boy and Girl peer out of the window and sees the horses, and they are moved by their beauty and freedom. There is something sublime about this moment, particularly in its contrast of the horses' wildness to the family's situation on the train. The horses have the freedom to "go away" as they please, while the Japanese Americans on the train are imprisoned. At the same time, the passage also suggests a similarity between the horses and the people on the train: like the horses, the family is "going away" to an internment camp--a place that's just as foreign and mysterious to the Boy as the destination of the wild horses.

At Topaz the bus stopped. The girl looked out the window and saw hundreds of tar-paper barracks sitting beneath the hot sun. She saw telephone poles and barbed-wire fences. She saw soldiers. And everything she saw she saw through a cloud of fine white dust that had once been the bed of an ancient salt lake. The boy began to cough and the girl untied her scarf and shoved it into his hand and told him to hold it over his nose and mouth. He pressed the scarf to his face and took the girl’s hand and together they stepped out of the bus and into the blinding white glare of the desert.

Related Characters: The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the family finally gets off the bus and prepares to enter the internment camp. The first vistas of Topaz, the family's new home, are pretty grim: the air itself is hard to breathe, since it's full of dust. The passage is symbolic for a couple reasons. The Girl urges her brother to protect himself from the dust by breathing through cloth--a rare moment of maturity and selflessness for the Girl, as she seems to connect with her family in this moment of fear and confusion. Furthermore, the blinding whiteness of the dust is potentially a subtle symbol for the racist ideology that allows white Americans to blindly and ignorantly send Japanese-American citizens to camp.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Several days later, the street signs appeared. Suddenly there was an Elm Street, a Willow Street, a Cottonwood way… “It doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving here any time soon,” said the boy’s mother.
“At least we know where we are,” said the girl.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy
Related Symbols: Trees
Page Number: 1021
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the American guards try to make the internment camp "homier" and more enjoyable for the Japanese-American residents. First they plant trees, but these soon die. Then in their place they put up street signs named after trees: there's an Elm Street, a Willow Street, and probably a Maple Street, too. On one level, this shows how unnatural the camp is--the families there aren't in any kind of real "home," any more than a street named "Elm Street" is an elm tree. But in another sense, these street names are very much "American," emphasizing the overpowering whiteness and Americanness of the camp: all traces of Japanese culture are wiped out, replaced by bland American place names.

The Girl sarcastically comments, "We know where we are," when in fact, the Japanese-American prisoners have no idea where they "are"--they're displaced from their Japanese heritage, as well as their American citizenship.

Chapter 4 Quotes

We put down our things and ran from one room to the next shouting, “Fire! Help! Wolf!” simply because we could.

Related Characters: The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the family returns from the internment camp to the house where they used to live. Predictably, the house has fallen into disrepair—it’s full of trash and broken bottles, and has been vandalized with racist slurs. While the Japanese internment program was initiated for supposedly noble reasons—the protection of American citizens—its most tangible result is far more vulgar: the robbery and vandalism of Japanese-American houses.

The children have a fascinating reaction when they realize their house was robbed: they run through the halls screaming about the damage. It’s as if the children have been forced to keep silent about their problems for so long (who could they complain to when the American soldiers forced them to leave their homes?) that it’s satisfying just to yell things that are usually forbidden (like crying "fire" when there is no fire).

Nothing’s changed, we said to ourselves. The war had been an interruption, nothing more. We would pick up our lives where we had left off and go on. We would go back to school again. We would study hard, every day, to make up for lost time. We would seek out old classmates…We would listen to their music. We would dress just like they did. We would change our names to sound more like theirs. And if our mother called out to us on the street by our real names we would turn away and pretend not to know her. We would never be mistaken for the enemy again!

Related Characters: The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chilling passage, the children of the Woman return to their old lives—and they find that little has changed: the radio programs are the same, their food is the same, their street is the same, etc. The children are young enough to think that their lives can go on, exactly as they had before the war, without any further problems, as long as they try to deny their Japanese heritage and fit in with their white peers.

Of course, there is a very dark undercurrent to the false optimism of this passage. The Japanese-American community has come to see how fragile its place in the U.S. really is: at the drop of a hat, the President can sign an executive order and pull the people away from their houses. Granted, many Japanese-American families returned to their old lives after being released from the camps, and found prosperity and acceptance within the American mainstream. But this passage suggests that they partly were so desperate for American success because of a desire to avoid being interned again. They believed (whether consciously or not) that if they kept their heads down, didn't make trouble or demand justice, and succeeded in school and work (i.e., became the "model minority" of America) they’d never be "mistaken for the enemy again." This shows how the very idea of the "model minority" is flawed and racist, and the result of an internalized "imprisonment" (suppressing one's culture and true desires out of fear) that is just another incarnation of the literal imprisonment of the internment camps.

And when our mother pushed us gently, but firmly, from behind, and whispered, Go to him, all we could do was stare down at our shoes, unable to move. Because the man who stood there before us was not our father. He was somebody else, a stranger who had been sent back in our father’s place. That’s not him, we said to our mother, That’s not him, but our mother no longer seemed to hear us…He got down on his knees and he took us into his arms and over and over again, he uttered our names, but still we could not be sure it was him.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy (speaker), The Man / The Father
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Boy and Girl reunite with their Father. Yet when they see him, he’s been so utterly transformed by his experiences (experiences which we’ve yet to hear about) that his children can’t even tell who he is. Although the passage is narrated from the perspective of the Girl and the Boy, it’s the Mother and Father who bear the real burden of sadness: when the children say they can’t even recognize their own father, it’s a safe guess that both parents feel crushed. Furthermore, the Father's strangeness to his children suggests that he has become just as "inscrutable" as the other male Japanese prisoners, those whom the Boy long ago felt "all looked the same." His role as a dehumanized prisoner has actually robbed him of his identity and individuality.

The passage is a tragic refutation of the idea that the Japanese-American families will be able to “go back to normal” after internment, as the Boy and Girl childishly tried to believe. In fact, internment has changed family so utterly that normality will never be possible again. (The passage is also a good example of the way that internment has wiped out Japanese heritage in the young generation of Japanese-American children: the young Boy and Girl feel little to no connection to their “father land,” as symbolized by their confusion when facing their own father.)

Get the entire Emperor was Divine LitChart as a printable PDF.
When the emperor was divine.pdf.medium

The Girl Character Timeline in When the Emperor was Divine

The timeline below shows where the character The Girl appears in When the Emperor was Divine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Evacuation Order No. 19
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...come home from school, the woman reminds them they’re “going on a trip” tomorrow. The girl, who is ten, says she knows. Like a typical American girl, the girl likes boys,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
As they sit down for dinner, the girl looks into her spoon and asks the woman if anything is wrong with her face.... (full context)
Chapter 2: Train
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
This chapter follows the perspective of the girl. As the train slowly moves through the Nevada desert, it passes a dry lakebed. The... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...through the compartment, telling everyone to pull the shades down. A man next to the girl says something to her in Japanese and she responds that she is sorry, she only... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
The girl pulls up the shades when the soldiers tell them it’s okay again. As she looks... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...marks left in the wood by the horses. One night, the boy had told the girl that he wanted to be a jockey. A man in the neighboring stall called out... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Back on the train, the girl goes to use the toilet in the late afternoon. As she takes her place in... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
Ted compliments the girl on her blue scarf, and the girl says that her father got it for her... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
The girl goes into the bathroom, looks at herself in the mirror, and thinks that she is... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
As the girl walks back to her seat, she passes a young child playing with a doll that... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...says he’s forgotten his umbrella. The woman tells him that you can’t remember everything. The girl interjects, saying that even if you can remember everything, you shouldn’t. The woman ignores her... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
Toward evening, the girl takes out a letter that her father wrote to her. Most of the time, her... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
The girl wakes up to the sound of a window breaking—someone has thrown a brick through the... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
...is dusty and the boy begins to cough. As they get off the bus, the girl tells him to put her scarf against his mouth. They step off the bus together... (full context)
Chapter 3: When The Emperor Was Divine
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
The woman, the girl, and the boy are assigned a room in a barrack not far from the fence.... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
In winter, the temperatures drop to ten degrees. One day, the boy taps the girl’s arm while she is looking at her reflection in the mirror. He asks her where... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
While the girl withdraws from the family, the woman withdraws almost completely into herself. The woman spends all... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...appear throughout the camp. Seeing the signs suddenly appear, the woman tells the boy and girl with resignation that it doesn’t look like their family will be leaving anytime soon. The... (full context)
Chapter 4: In a Stranger’s Backyard
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...of “we,” this chapter is written through the dual perspective of the boy and the girl. When the family arrives home after the war, the children notice that the trees seem... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...been away. Once, when the woman thought no one was looking, the boy and the girl had seen her put the key in her mouth and smile with delight. Their mother... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...the back door and stands under the shade of the tree. The boy and the girl think about how they came from a place without any shade, where the only trees... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...the walls over, but the words stay in the heads of the boy and the girl for a long time after that. (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...narrow, this room resembled their room in the barracks. All night, the boy and the girl think of the stories they had heard about the people who had went home before... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority  Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...are the same, and the fashions people wear are the same. The boy and the girl tell themselves nothing has changed, that the war had been an interruption and they can... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...from prison. With this money, the woman buys thick mattresses for the boy and the girl to sleep on in the front room—until the night someone throws a whiskey bottle through... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority  Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...the torture they suffered at the hands of Japanese prison guards, the boy and the girl look at themselves in the mirror and see what they think is the face of... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority  Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...classmates at school are polite, but are no longer friendly, and the boy and the girl keep mostly to themselves. If people whisper behind their backs or call them something unkind,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
...job cleaning the houses of wealthier, white families. The woman tells the boy and the girl that it’s easy work. If they ask you scrub the floors, you get on your... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
...face is wrinkled, his suit faded, and his head bald. Though the boy and the girl have been waiting for him for years, they don’t know what to do when they... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...teeth while detained, and he never sings or reads stories to the boy and the girl like he used to do. He never says a word about the years he has... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...never seen them before. He is suspicious of everyone, and tells the boy and the girl never to trust others. Small things like a misplaced pen or a dog barking send... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority  Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
In May, when the roses everywhere burst into bloom, the boy and the girl wander the streets looking for their mother’s rosebush. They go to other gardens and inspect... (full context)