Throughout the course of “The Enemy,” Dr. Sadao Hoki struggles to come to terms with his conflicting impulses to see Tom—an American prisoner of war who has washed up on the beach alongside Sadao’s house—as an inhuman enemy and as a fellow man. The story is set in Japan in the thick of World War II, making it understandable that Sadao, a loyal Japanese citizen, would perceive Tom as an enemy. Even as Sadao embraces this belief, he finds himself treating Tom with a reluctant sort of kindness that reveals Sadao’s competing, compassionate impulse to view Tom as a human instead of an enemy. As Sadao and Tom’s brief but complicated relationship unfolds, Pearl S. Buck suggests that all humans have the inherent desire to be a loyal global citizen, committed to helping a fellow human regardless of race, nationality, religion, or social standing. Broadening her concern with racism and nationalism, Buck suggests that the human impulse toward kindness is clouded by politics more generally, as it often spurs an antagonistic “us versus them” dynamic.
Sadao initially deems Tom an enemy because of his status as an outsider (due to Tom’s white skin and his ties to the United States). In other words, it is racism, nationalism, and the tense wartime climate (all manmade ideas and circumstances) that cloud Sadao’s human impulse to treat Tom as a brother and friend. When examining the unconscious Tom on the beach, Sadao muses that the man—who is really a boy, no more than seventeen years old—looks American. He examines the boy’s cap more closely and sees the faint letters spelling out “U.S. Navy.” Immediately, Sadao declares that this boy is “from an American warship” and is “a prisoner of war.” Tom’s Americanness compounds Sadao’s already profound dislike of the man due to his white skin. Upon confirming that Tom is, in fact, American, Sadao’s words take a sharp, political turn, painting the injured, unconscious young boy as a fierce enemy tied to the larger political foe that is the United States. Tying the boy back to politics allows Sadao to dehumanize him and care less for him.
Even as Sadao’s country tells him to hate the white man as a whole entity, Sadao (and Hana to a lesser extent) feels a twinge of compassion for the sole white man who washes up on the beach. The fact that Sadao comes in contact with one white man is significant, because it transforms the faceless and nameless white enemy into a helpless, bleeding seventeen-year-old boy named Tom who is frightened, in pain, and deeply grateful for his unexpected hosts, aloof as they are. Sadao voices this sentiment when he tells his wife, “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…” Sadao trails off, leaving readers with the sense that his so-called enemy has been made human by a “foolish” face and pools of blood. Though terrified and disdainful of the white man, Hana does not want to turn him over to the authorities, where he’s bound to die a torturous death. She declares to her husband, “The kindest thing would be to put him back into the sea.” Even though Tom is her enemy on two fronts—he is white and American—Hana’s first impulse is to consider what “The kindest thing” to do would be in this situation.
Furthermore, she and her husband go on to do an even kinder thing by bringing the bleeding enemy into their home and nursing him back to health—even though they’re not quite sure why they’re doing so. Operating on the unconscious Tom, Sadao mindlessly whispers to him, “[The bullet] is not quite at the kidney, my friend.” The narrative points out that “it was [Sadao’s] 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.” Significantly, Sadao’s profound act of human kindness—saving the enemy’s life through surgery and housing him illegally—actually helps Sadao momentarily forget that Tom is, in fact, supposed to be an enemy. In this moment, Tom is simply a friend. Later, as Tom recovers, Hana kneels at his bedside and feeds him: “‘Now you will soon be strong,’ she said, not liking him and yet moved to comfort him.” This inexplicable pull to gently care for and comfort an enemy is one of the central strands of the story, emphasizing humankind’s universality, goodness, and capacity to take care of one another.
In the story, Sadao acts on this impulse to be kind to a fellow human in two major ways, first by saving Tom’s life through surgery, and then by saving Tom’s life from the assassins and authorities by helping him slip away in the night to a nearby island. However, Sadao’s altruism is ultimately unsatisfying. As gazes out toward the island, Sadao thinks to himself “although without reason” about all the “other white faces he had known.” His thoughts are far from compassionate, as he thinks bitterly about Americans like the “ignorant and dirty,” “fat and slatternly landlady” who took care of him when he had the flu in college. These recollections of other white people he’s known come to him “without reason,” revealing that Sadao’s arc is anti-epiphanic. Although Sadao’s impulse to perceive an enemy as a fellow human has risen to the surface several times throughout the story, he stuffs it back down, reverting to ideological antagonism. However, hope is not lost—as the story has repeatedly demonstrated, Sadao does harbor these feelings of compassion for all humans, which can rise to the surface again.
Humanization, Kindness, and Antagonism ThemeTracker
Humanization, Kindness, and Antagonism Quotes in The Enemy
“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.
“This man,” he thought, “there is no reason under heaven why he should live.”
Unconsciously this thought made him ruthless and he proceeded swiftly. In his dream, the man moaned but Sadao paid no heed except to mutter at him.
“Groan,” he muttered, “groan if you like. I am not doing this for my own pleasure. In fact, I do not know why I am doing it.”
“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?”
The Americans were full of prejudice and it had been bitter to live in it, knowing himself their superior. How he had despised the ignorant and dirty old woman who had at last consented to house him in her miserable home! He had once tried to be grateful to her because she had in his last year nursed him through influenza, but it was difficult, for she was no less repulsive to him in her kindness. Now he remembered the youthful, haggard face of his prisoner—white and repulsive.
“Strange,” he thought. “I wonder why I could not kill him?”