In “The Enemy,” set in Japan during World War II, a severely injured American prisoner of war named Tom washes up on the beach alongside the secluded home of a Japanese doctor named Dr. Sadao Hoki and his wife, Hana. For the bulk of the story, Sadao struggles to reconcile his duty as a surgeon, which goes directly against the grain of his duty as a loyal Japanese citizen. His occupation as a surgeon, and an extremely talented one at that, compels him to save a life whenever possible, even if it belongs to a white enemy. Meanwhile, his Japanese citizenship and heritage requires him to unflinchingly turn the white man over to the authorities, even though the man will surely die a painful, torturous death at their hands. Alongside this primary conflict, Sadao also grapples with his duty as the head of the household to tend to his wife, children, and servants. All of these responsibilities pull Sadao in conflicting directions, challenging his deep-rooted beliefs about his identity and role in his household, his country, and the wider world. Ultimately, Pearl S. Buck suggests that though the duty to one’s country and family is great, the duty to one’s self—like Sadao’s convictions as a surgeon—is greater.
Sadao’s duty to his country is a dangerous undercurrent in the story. If Sadao doesn’t perform his duty as a surgeon, Tom will die, but if Sadao instead performs the surgery and betrays his duty as a Japanese citizen, Sadao (and probably his whole family) will die at the hands of the authorities. Early on in the story, Sadao parrots an antagonistic, wartime ideology that neatly shelves all white people as Japan’s enemies: “I care nothing for him. He is my enemy. All Americans are my enemy.” His short, staccato sentences imply that he’s reciting an ideology that’s been repeatedly drilled into him. Hana too, makes a similar observation. Even though she and Sadao both went to college in the United States and had American classmates and teachers, “[Tom] was the first [white man] she had seen since she left America and now he seemed to have nothing to do with those whom she had known there. Here he was her enemy, a menace, living or dead.” Hana’s specification of the word “Here,” meaning Japan, emphasizes her country’s role in vilifying Americans, and how accepting that ideology is part of being a patriotic citizen. Sadao explicitly references his country’s unforgiving stance at helping an enemy: “If we sheltered a white man in our house we should be arrested and if we turned him over as a prisoner, he would certainly die.” Even the General—Sadao’s most influential and powerful patient—reaffirms that Sadao would surely be arrested and even sentenced to death if news of his traitorous actions got out.
Alongside his duty as a Japanese citizen, Sadao’s responsibility as the head of the household also pulls him in different directions, as it requires him to be a good son, husband, father, and employer, which are sometimes at odds. Much of Sadao’s concerns about sheltering Tom stem from Hana’s own anxieties about the situation. As a husband in a traditional Japanese marriage, Sadao should be protecting Hana—not a random white prisoner of war. Even when they first stumble across Tom, Hana says to Sadao with surprising firmness, “We must simply tell [the servants] that we intend to give him over to the police—as indeed we must, Sadao. We must think of the children and your position. It would endanger all of us if we did not give this man over as a prisoner of war.” In this moment, Sadao agrees with Hana’s conviction, declaring, “Certainly […] I would not think of doing anything else.” Of course, Sadao does think of other ways to handle the situation and fails to hand Tom over to the police, showing the strength of his convictions as a surgeon.
Sadao’s status as an acclaimed surgeon is at the forefront of the story, as much of the plot centers around Sadao skillfully tending to Tom’s wounds and nursing him back to health, albeit ambivalently. Sadao’s unparalleled talent as a surgeon, and the fact that he loses sight of all else during an operation, suggests that surgery and medicine are an inherent part of Sadao’s self; his duty as a surgeon to preserve lives is also a duty to himself. This is why Sadao eventually bends to this duty and skirts the others—and why the story lauds him even in his imperfections. Even as Sadao wonders aloud to Hana what they should do with the white man, “his trained hands seemed of their own will to be doing what they could to stanch the fearful bleeding.” Likewise, as he skillfully packs sea moss into the man’s bullet wound—clearly trying to keep the man from bleeding to death—Sadao thinks and talks of the man as if he wants him to die, claiming that he’s just going to throw the man back into the sea or turn him over to the police. In a moment of emotional transparency, Sadao admits to his wife why he’s so torn about what to do with Tom: “The strange thing is […] if the man were whole I could turn him over to the police without difficulty. I care nothing for him. He is my enemy. All Americans are my enemy. And he is only a common fellow. You see how foolish his face is. But since he is wounded…” The surgeon trails off, implying he has a duty to himself and to other people to save lives. When Sadao declares that Tom will surely die unless he is operated on, Hana is aghast, exclaiming, “Don’t try to save him! What if he should live!” Sadao sharply replies, “What if he should die?” Sadao’s responsibility to save lives eclipses all other concerns—even the towering threat of being seen as a traitor by his country and endangering his wife and children.
Throughout the story, Sadao struggles to come to terms with his conflicting responsibilities and identities. However, the story resists a tidy, feel-good ending. Tom has survived his injuries and has made it to safety all thanks to Sadao, but the protagonist remains cold and prejudiced. Though perhaps disappointing for the reader, Sadao’s lingering loyalty to his country is understandable—he’s long internalized his own superiority to people of other races and nationalities, and helping anyone who is categorized as an enemy is a death sentence for him and his family. However, the fact that Sadao does choose to prioritize his duty as a surgeon—and by extension, his duty to himself—reveals the necessity of following one’s own convictions first and foremost.
Decisions and Duty ThemeTracker
Decisions and Duty Quotes in The Enemy
He had met Hana in America, but he had waited to fall in love with her until he was sure she was Japanese. His father would never have received her unless she had been pure in her race […] they had not married heedlessly in America. They had finished their work at school and had come home to Japan, and when his father had seen her the marriage had been arranged in the old Japanese way, although Sadao and Hana had talked everything over beforehand.
“What shall we do with this man?” Sadao muttered. But his trained hands seemed of their own will to be doing what they could to stanch the fearful bleeding. He packed the wound with the sea moss that strewed the beach. […]
“The best thing that we could do would be to put him back in the sea,” Sadao said, answering himself. Now that the bleeding was stopped for a moment he stood up and dusted the sand from his hands.
“Yes, undoubtedly that would be best,” Hana said steadily. But she continued to stare down at the motionless man.
Sadao hesitated again. “The strange thing is,” he said, “that if the man were whole I could turn him over to the police without difficulty. I care nothing for him. He is my enemy. All Americans are my enemy. And he is only a common fellow. You see how foolish his face is. But since he is wounded…”
“You cannot throw him back to the sea,” Hana said.
“It is not quite at the kidney, my friend,” Sadao murmured. It was his habit to murmur to the patient when he forgot himself in an operation. “My friend,” he always called his patients and so now he did, forgetting that this was his enemy.
“You say you think I can stand one more such attack as I have had today?”
“Not more than one,” Sadao said.
“Then certainly I can allow nothing to happen to you,” the General said with anxiety. His long pale Japanese face became expressionless, which meant that he was in deep thought. “You cannot be arrested,” the General said, closing his eyes. “Suppose you were condemned to death and the next day I had to have my operation?”
“There are other surgeons, Excellency,” Sadao suggested.
“None I trust,” the General replied. “The best ones have been trained by Germans and would consider the operation successful even if I died.”
“That prisoner,” he said with some energy, “did I not promise you I would kill him for you?”
“You did, Excellency,” Sadao said.
“Well, well!” the old man said in a tone of amazement, “so I did! But you see, I was suffering a good deal. The truth is, I thought of nothing but myself. In short, I forgot my promise to you.”
“I wondered, Your Excellency,” Sadao murmured.
“It was certainly very careless of me,” the General said. “But you understand it was not lack of patriotism or dereliction of duty.” He looked anxiously at his doctor. “If the matter should come out you would understand that, wouldn’t you?”