When the Emperor was Divine


Julie Otsuka

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When the Emperor was Divine Characters

The Woman

The woman—who, like the other main characters, is never named—begins the novel as an upper middle-class Japanese-American housewife living in California. She is quiet, confident, and graceful, and keeps her inner emotional life to herself… read analysis of The Woman

The Girl

At the cusp of adolescence, the girl is inquisitive, friendly, and has a strong American identity: she wears Mary Jane shoes, listens to Dorothy Lamour, and loves American candy. Because she has internalized white… read analysis of The Girl

The Boy

The woman’s younger child, the boy is seven when the novel starts. A dreamy child, he has a strong imagination and a deep connection to the natural world. Sensitive, intuitive, and compassionate, the boy… read analysis of The Boy

The Man / The Father

For most of the novel, the father only exists in the memories of the other family members and in the short, censored letters he writes from the detention camp (he was detained by the U.S… read analysis of The Man / The Father

Joe Lundy

The white owner of the general store in Berkeley that the woman visits. Sympathetic to the woman’s forced relocation, he offers her candy for her children while at the same time scrubbing a stain from… read analysis of Joe Lundy
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Emperor Hirohito

The Japanese Emperor during the war. According to Japanese traditions, the Emperor was the divine embodiment of a god. The boy repeats his name over and over as an act of defiance against the prison… read analysis of Emperor Hirohito
Minor Characters
Mrs. Ueno
The woman’s former maid who takes on her old deferential role in the camp by helping the woman carry a bucket of water to her barracks. The maid represents how differences in class still exits even inside the internment camp.
Teizo “Ted” Ishimoto
An older gentleman whom the girl meets on the train, Ted was a rich man until he lost all his money due to racist discrimination and relocation.
Jean-François Millet
The 19th century French painter of The Gleaners. This painting of peasants is hanging in the woman’s house.
Dorothy Lamour
A popular actress and big band singer from the 1930s and 40s. She is one of the girl’s favorite entertainers.