When the Emperor was Divine

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The Man / The Father Character Analysis

For most of the novel, the father only exists in the memories of the other family members and in the short, censored letters he writes from the detention camp (he was detained by the U.S. government months before the story begins). The family remembers him as a loving, mild-mannered, and gentle man, and his warm letters, though censored, confirm that he loves and cares for his family. However, when we see the man at the end of the novel, he is a bitter and weary, reeling from the psychological effects of being unjustly interned as an “alien enemy.” Gripped by his rage and resentment at America for imprisoning him and his family, the man slowly disconnects from the family, becoming more sullen and withdrawing into his inner world. Though he did not physically die at the camp, he does return as a ghost of his former self.

The Man / The Father Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

The When the Emperor was Divine quotes below are all either spoken by The Man / The Father or refer to The Man / The Father . 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 3 Quotes

She’d been in America for almost twenty years now. But she did not want to cause any trouble—“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”—or be labeled disloyal. She did not want to be sent back to Japan. “There’s no future for us there. We’re here. Your father’s here. The most important thing is that we stay together.”…
Loyalty. Disloyalty. Allegiance. Obedience.
“Words,” she said, “it’s all just words.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Boy , The Man / The Father
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Woman makes a difficult choice. The army has come to the internment camps and asked for "volunteers" to join the military. there's a pretty clear program of coercion going on here (as evidenced by the fact that men who refuse to join the armed forces are sent to a different, presumably harsher camp), and so the Mother is understandably frightened that something bad will happen if she doesn't agree to the loyalty pledge.

In the end, the Mother agrees to pledge her loyalty to the U.S., because she thinks that her pledge is meaningless. She isn't particularly interested in the abstract notions of allegiance or obedience to U.S. authority--her real priority is her children, and therefore she'll do whatever she needs to do to stay with them, even if this means compromising her ideals and "keeping her head down."

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Chapter 4 Quotes

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.)

Chapter 5 Quotes

I spied on you—you get up at six, you like bacon and eggs, you love baseball, you take your coffee with cream, your favorite color is blue.

Related Characters: The Man / The Father (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Man sarcastically confesses to his supposed “crimes.” He claims that he planted dynamite on train tracks, sabotaged the American war effort, etc. He adds that he’s been spying on Americans—watching them take their coffee, watch baseball, and so on. The truth, of course, is that the Man has done nothing of the kind: he’s just a regular American citizen who’s being scapegoated by the racist, intolerant American society of the 1940s.

The novel has used sarcasm and irony to make a point before, but never as bitterly as in this closing chapter. The Man knows he’s done nothing wrong: he’s lashing out in impotent rage against the powerful American officials who’ve arranged for him to be detained. More subtly, the passage implies that in being detained by American officials for his supposedly un-American behavior, the Man has actually become more anti-American: he’s come to resent the Americans who’ve stripped him of his rights, and now hates American culture, too (baseball, bacon and eggs, etc.).

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The Man / The Father Character Timeline in When the Emperor was Divine

The timeline below shows where the character The Man / The Father 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
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...third person, the opening chapter follows the perspective of an unnamed, Japanese American character: the woman. In Berkeley, California, on a sunny day in the spring of 1942, the forty-year-old woman... (full context)
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Nine days later, the woman is still not finished packing. She pulls on her white silk gloves and goes to... (full context)
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When the woman gets home, she finishes packing: she rolls up the Oriental rug in the living room,... (full context)
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The woman packs everything in her house into boxes and carries them into the sunroom. She locks... (full context)
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In the kitchen, the woman prepares some eggs and salmon in a bowl and lays it out on the front... (full context)
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The woman puts on her gloves and with the twine she bought from the store, she ties... (full context)
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When her children come home from school, the woman reminds them they’re “going on a trip” tomorrow. The girl, who is ten, says she... (full context)
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As they sit down for dinner, the girl looks into her spoon and asks the woman if anything is wrong with her face. The girl says that people stared at her... (full context)
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After the children go to sleep, the woman takes their pet macaw from the birdcage. The bird says, “Get over here,” and the... (full context)
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The woman takes a bottle of plum wine, sits down on the floor, and drinks. Without the... (full context)
Chapter 2: Train
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...Nevada desert, it passes a dry lakebed. The girl asks for a lemon and the woman gives it to her. The soldiers had left a crate of lemons and oranges at... (full context)
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Ted compliments the girl on her blue scarf, and the girl says that her father got it for her from Paris, but that she already had a blue scarf from... (full context)
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...mother, but also less mysterious. When she walks out, the girl tells Ted that her father never writes to her. This is a lie, though, since her father has written to... (full context)
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The boy looks through his bag and says he’s forgotten his umbrella. The woman tells him that you can’t remember everything. The girl interjects, saying that even if you... (full context)
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Toward evening, the girl takes out a letter that her father wrote to her. Most of the time, her father writes about the weather and his... (full context)
Chapter 3: When The Emperor Was Divine
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...of the boy. At the beginning of their internment, the boy thinks he sees his father in the faces of the other adult male prisoners. Everyone looks alike to him: black... (full context)
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The woman, the girl, and the boy are assigned a room in a barrack not far from... (full context)
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...for news, for meals, for one day to end and the next to begin. The man scrubbing the dishes in the mess hall had formerly been a sales manager in an... (full context)
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...Other times he thinks he’s still dreaming and that he’ll wake up to find his father making breakfast in the kitchen. (full context)
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Every few days, letters arrive from the father. Sometimes, entire sentences are cut out by the censors, but they are always signed, “From... (full context)
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...to tie his shoe. Sometimes, a bell rings and he wakes up to find his father still absent. (full context)
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Three FBI agents had come for the father after midnight, months before. They had taken him out of the house while he was... (full context)
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Whenever the boy thinks of his father, he imagines him at sundown leaning against a fence in a camp for dangerous enemy... (full context)
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In late November, the army plants full-grown trees at the camp. As the woman looks at the trees from the barrack room window, she says that the soil is... (full context)
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While the girl withdraws from the family, the woman withdraws almost completely into herself. The woman spends all day inside, staring at the stoves... (full context)
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One day, the woman says she cannot bear the endless waiting. She hangs a white sheet around her cot... (full context)
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...volunteers to join the military. They give out a loyalty questionnaire to everyone. When one man says he is not willing to serve in the armed forces wherever he is ordered,... (full context)
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...with the names of trees 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... (full context)
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...he wipes the letters away. Late at night in his cot, the boy imagines his father arriving at the camp with a single white pearl, asking whom it belonged to. Then... (full context)
Chapter 4: In a Stranger’s Backyard
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...after the war, the children notice that the trees seem taller and the rosebush the woman planted in the front yard is no longer there. As they walk towards their house... (full context)
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At the front door, the woman takes out the key that has been hanging around her neck for the entire time... (full context)
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...gone. Despite the mess, the children run through the house, yelling “Fire! Help! Wolf!” The woman walks out the back door and stands under the shade of the tree. The boy... (full context)
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...the stories they had heard about the people who had went home before them. One man’s house was doused with gasoline and set fire with him inside. The woman makes the... (full context)
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...amount given to criminals on the day they’re released from prison. With this money, the woman buys thick mattresses for the boy and the girl to sleep on in the front... (full context)
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The woman begins looking for work, but every time she applies for a job, the business owners... (full context)
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A telegram soon arrives from the father, saying that he will arrive in a few days. On the day of his arrival,... (full context)
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When the father comes home, he wears dentures because he lost all his teeth while detained, and he... (full context)
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When he first returns home, the father wanders from room to room, picking up objects in bewilderment, as if he has never... (full context)
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The father begins spending more time in his room. He stops reading the newspaper and his handwriting... (full context)
Chapter 5: Confession
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In what appears to be a first-person journal entry, the man tells his story. He says everything is true. They took him when he was in... (full context)
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“Who am I?” the man asks. He says he’s your florist, your grocer, you porter, your waiter, the owner of... (full context)