When the Emperor was Divine

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

Wild and Domesticated Animals Symbol Analysis

Wild and Domesticated Animals  Symbol Icon

In a novel deeply concerned with what it means to be free, animals represent the various forms of incarceration. The first animal we see is White Dog, a completely domesticated animal that relies completely on the family for sustenance. White Dog trusts the woman, his provider, so much that he offers no resistance when she kills him out of mercy. Here, White Dog represents many of the Japanese-Americans themselves, who trust the U.S. government so much that they consent to the injustice of being sent to the internment camps.

Unlike White Dog, the family’s caged bird does escape its imprisonment. It is the family’s domesticated pet, but the woman decides to releases the bird from its cage instead of killing it, because she knows it can survive in the wild. When she first lets it out, however, the bird refuses to be free, tapping on the windows to be let back in. Here, we see the psychological power of incarceration, and the feeling of safety and security that can come with imprisonment. The bird has internalized its status as a prisoner and does not want to give it up—the cage is comforting and familiar to it.

Finally, the wild mustangs that the children see on the desert plain represent complete liberty. Running across the plain, the wild animals revel in their freedom. Looking out the window, the boy admires and longs for that freedom as his family hurdles toward the prison camp. For the boy, the horses represent that ideal state of freedom, which he will long for throughout the novel but never attain.

Wild and Domesticated Animals Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

The When the Emperor was Divine quotes below all refer to the symbol of Wild and Domesticated Animals . 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

White Dog rolled over and looked up at her with his good eye. “Play dead,” she said. White Dog turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. His paws went limp. The woman picked up the large shovel that was leaning against the trunk of the tree. She lifted it high in the air with both hands and brought the blade down swiftly over his head…She picked up White dog and dropped him into the hole…She pulled off her gloves and looked at them. They were no longer white. She dropped them into the hole and picked up the shovel again. She filled the hole.

Related Characters: The Woman
Related Symbols: Wild and Domesticated Animals
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this shocking passage, the Woman kills her beloved dog because she won't be able to take care of it, and doesn't want it to starve: she's being taken off to a camp, and she's not bringing any pets with her. The passage is symbolically loaded: the Woman's killing is the first potentially immoral action we've seen her take in the novel--as if to symbolize her moral compromises, her gloves are no longer pure and white. Furthermore, the passage could be said to symbolize the way the American government turned on its own people: like the Woman turning on her dog, the Roosevelt administration turned on its loyal Japanese citizens and imprisoned them.

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!
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.

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.

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

Wild and Domesticated Animals Symbol Timeline in When the Emperor was Divine

The timeline below shows where the symbol Wild and Domesticated Animals 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
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
...woman knows she can bring clothes and bedding but not much else. She cannot bring pets. She has given their cat to the neighbors. She caught the chicken, which had been... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...on the front porch. She claps her hands a few times and an old white dog comes limping out of the trees. “Eat up, White Dog,” she says. The woman thinks... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...on her gloves and with the twine she bought from the store, she ties the dog to the big tree in the backyard. She tells the dog to play dead and... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...The boy opens the door to the backyard and calls White Dog’s name, but the dog doesn’t appear. The boy says that the dog is getting deafer all the time, and... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
After the children go to sleep, the woman takes their pet macaw from the birdcage. The bird says, “Get over here,” and the woman thinks its voice... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...takes a bottle of plum wine, sits down on the floor, and drinks. Without the bird in the cage, the house feels empty to her. After a few sips, she begins... (full context)
Chapter 2: Train
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
...As she looks out the window, the boy asks if she thinks they’ll see any horses. The girl remembers reading a National Geographic article about how Nevada has the most wild... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
After the family left their house, the army had moved them to the horse stables behind the city racetrack. Families upon families of Japanese Americans crowded into the racetrack,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown  Theme Icon
...thrown a brick through the window. Startled and confused, the girl asks her mother where White Dog is. The woman says he’s at home. The girl then pulls up the shade to... (full context)
Chapter 3: When The Emperor Was Divine
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...in long braids, hobbled on broken feet, and that they were so poor they ate dogs. One day before they left for the camps, a white man had stopped the boy... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity  Theme Icon
...likes to think of his dad as an outlaw, wearing boots and riding a big horse. Then the boy feels ashamed that the FBI agents led his father away in his... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom  Theme Icon
...being disturbed, the girl puckers her lips and says the army rounds up the wild horses, like the ones the boy saw on the train, and shoots them. Over the last... (full context)