The story of Sadako Sasaki is many things—an ode to optimism, an exploration of what constitutes freedom, a meditation on family—but above all, perhaps, it is a plea for peace. Sadako contracts her illness as a result of radiation poisoning from the nuclear bomb dropped on her city, Hiroshima, when she was just a baby. Eleanor Coerr tells the story of Sadako’s senseless death in order to underscore the importance of peace and nonviolence.
The general atmosphere in Hiroshima at the start of the novel is one of mourning and apprehension. Though Sadako herself is sunny, optimistic, full of hope for her dreams as a runner, a good friend, and a good student, her parents and the families who live around the Sasakis are haunted by their memories of the nuclear bomb and are still grieving the losses they suffered as a result of it. By describing such an environment, Coerr sets the stage for a narrative which encourages its readers to learn about pacifism. Moreover, she creates an opportunity to explain pacifism to readers by using a main character like Sadako—a member of the younger generation who is aware of the effects of the atom bomb but doesn’t understand what truly happened to her town, her family, and her people.
As Sadako falls ill, it becomes evident that she is a vehicle for the novel’s argument about the importance of pacifism and nonviolence. Sadako’s illness and her eventual death are senseless tragedies—as the residual effect of a nuclear attack, an innocent girl with dreams and hopes for her future is struck down before her life has even really begun. Sadako’s life, then, becomes a metaphor for the lingering physical and psychological scars that can rend a community—and the larger world around it—asunder in the wake of such violence and devastation. Coerr uses the tragedy of Sadako’s death to demonstrate the horrors of war, and the ways in which violence only begets more violence—physical, psychological, and emotional—as memories and physical traces of war echo through the years.
In the book’s epilogue, Eleanor Coerr writes that the statue dedicated to Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park bears the inscription “This is our cry, this is our prayer: peace in the world.” Sadako’s story is a tragic one, but a hopeful one as well, as Sadako, in death, became a martyr—a cautionary symbol of the horrors of nuclear war and a rallying cause for peace, unity, and hope.
Peace and Pacifism ThemeTracker
Peace and Pacifism Quotes in Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Rushing like a whirlwind into the kitchen, Sadako cried, “Oh, Mother! I can hardly wait to go to the carnival. Can we please hurry with breakfast?”
Her mother was busily slicing pickled radishes to serve with the rice and soup. She looked sternly at Sadako. “You are eleven years old and should know better,” she scolded. You must not call it a carnival. Every year on August sixth we remember those who died when the atom bomb was dropped on our city. It is a memorial day.”
Sadako bowed her head. She fidgeted and wriggled her bare toes while Mr. Sasaki spoke. He prayed that the spirits of their ancestors were happy and peaceful. He gave thanks for his barbershop [and] for his fine children. He prayed that his family would be protected from the atom bomb disease called leukemia. Many still died from the disease, even though the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima nine years before. It had filled the air with radiation—a kind of poison—that stayed inside people for a long time.
At the entrance to the Peace Park people filed through the memorial building in silence. On the walls were photographs of the dead and dying in a ruined city. The atom bomb—the Thunderbolt—had turned Hiroshima into a desert. Sadako didn’t want to look at the frightening pictures. She held tight to Chizuko’s hand and walked quickly through the building.
“I remember the Thunderbolt,” Sadako whispered to her friend. “There was the flash of a million suns. Then the heat prickled my eyes like needles.”
“How can you possibly remember anything?” Chizuko exclaimed. “You were only a baby then.”
“Well, I do!” Sadako said stubbornly.
When the ceremonies were over, Sadako led the others straight to the old lady who sold cotton candy. It tasted even better than last year. The day passed too quickly, as it always did. The best part, Sadako thought, was looking at all the things to buy and smelling the good food. The worst part was seeing people with ugly whitish scars. The atom bomb had burned them so badly that they no longer looked human. If any of the bomb victims came near Sadako, she turned away quickly.
Sadako was feeling especially tired one day when Nurse Yasunaga wheeled her out onto the porch for some sunshine. There Sadako saw Kenji for the first time. He was nine and small for his age.
“Hello!” she said. “I’m Sadako.”
Kenji answered in a low, soft voice. Soon the two were talking like old friends Kenji had been in the hospital for a long time, but he had few visitors. His parents were dead and he had been living with an aunt in a nearby town.
“She’s so old that she only comes to see me only once a week,” Kenji said. “I read most of the time.”
Sadako turned away at the sad look on Kenji’s face.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he went on, “because I’ll die soon. I have leukemia from the bomb.”
“You can’t have leukemia,” Sadako said. “You weren’t even born then.”
“That isn’t important,” Kenji said. “The poison was in my mother’s body and I got it from her.”
Sadako wanted to comfort him, but she didn’t know what to say. Then she remembered the cranes. “You can make paper cranes like I do,” she said, “so that a miracle can happen.”
“I know about the cranes, but it’s too late. Even the gods can’t help me now.”