Beginning in February, 1942, the United States government sent over 100,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps for the duration of World War II. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government feared that Japanese-American citizens would ally themselves to Japan and engage in acts of sabotage and espionage against America. In the 1980s, however, a congressional commission reviewed the situation and found little evidence of Japanese-Americans having expressed any disloyalty to the United States. The…(read full theme analysis)
The term “model minority” refers to minority groups that have supposedly achieved high levels of socioeconomic success in America. The term initially was used to describe Japanese-Americans, but has since extended to include people from Jewish, East Asian, and South Asian communities as well.
In this novel, Otsuka suggests that the experience of internment acted as a sort of cultural trauma in the minds of Japanese-Americans, causing them to react by seeking conventional forms of…(read full theme analysis)
Typically, assimilation refers to a group of people with their own heritage, traditions, and values adopting the culture of another group. But rather than the mingling of two cultural identities, When the Emperor was Divine depicts Japanese-American assimilation as more like the gradual loss of one’s identity altogether.
Before the war, the family’s home was full of the markers of their assimilated, Westernized life (a grand piano, a framed picture of a classic Western artwork…(read full theme analysis)
At one point in the novel, the boy refers to all the Japanese-American people in the camp as “inscrutable,” which means that they are impossible to know. This “inscrutability” was the exact reason why the U.S. government locked up innocent Japanese-American citizens. Since the government could never know for sure the loyalties of these citizens, the government decided to just incarcerate them all.
Otsuka explores this idea of inscrutability in a number of ways in…(read full theme analysis)