When the Emperor was Divine

The Woman Character Analysis

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. Caring deeply about her absent husband and two children, she alone shoulders the burden of preparing the children to evacuate during the Japanese American internment, performing the necessary actions with methodical determination and a bit of resignation to her fate. At the internment camp, she loses this emotional strength and clear-sighted practicality as she psychologically disconnects from her children and the world around her, spending most days asleep and dreaming of her childhood in Japan. After returning home, she regains her composure and her pragmatism, eventually becoming a maid for wealthy white families so that she can provide for her family.

The Woman Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

The When the Emperor was Divine quotes below are all either spoken by The Woman or refer to The Woman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of When the Emperor was Divine published in 2003.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“You can pay me later,” he said. Then he began to wipe the side of the register with a rag. There was a dark stain there that would not go away.

Related Characters: Joe Lundy (speaker), The Woman
Related Symbols: Stains
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

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She took The Gleaners out of its frame and looked at the picture one last time. She wondered why she had let it hang in the kitchen for so long. It bothered her, the way those peasants were forever bent over above that endless field of wheat. “Look up” she wanted to say to them. “Look up, look up!” The Gleaners, she decided, would have to go. She set the picture outside with the garbage.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

White Dog rolled over and looked up at her with his good eye. “Play dead,” she said. White Dog turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. His paws went limp. The woman picked up the large shovel that was leaning against the trunk of the tree. She lifted it high in the air with both hands and brought the blade down swiftly over his head…She picked up White dog and dropped him into the hole…She pulled off her gloves and looked at them. They were no longer white. She dropped them into the hole and picked up the shovel again. She filled the hole.

Related Characters: The Woman
Related Symbols: Wild and Domesticated Animals
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

In a few hours he and the girl and their mother would wake up and go to the Civil Control Station at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way. Then they would pin their identification numbers to their collars and grab their suitcases and climb up onto the bus and go to wherever it was they had to go.

Related Characters: The Woman, The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“I forgot my umbrella. I thought I brought it but I didn’t.”
His mother gave him an orange. “You can’t remember everything,” she said.
“And even when you can you shouldn’t,” said the girl.
“I wouldn’t say that,” said her mother.
“You didn’t,” said the girl.
“We’ll find you another umbrella when we get off the train,” said his mother.
“We’re never getting off this train,” said the girl.
“We are,” said her mother. “Tomorrow.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 3 Quotes

One evening as the boy’s mother was hauling a bucket of water from the washroom she ran into her former housekeeper, Mrs. Ueno. “When she saw me she grabbed the bucket right out of my hands and insisted upon carrying it home for me…I tried to tell her that she no longer worked for me. ‘Mrs. Ueno,’ I said, ‘here we’re all equal,’ but of course she wouldn’t listen. When we got back to the barracks she set the bucket down by the front door and then she bowed and hurried off into the darkness. I didn’t even get a chance to thank her.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Boy, Mrs. Ueno
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

“I lost an earring on the train. Did I ever tell you that?”
He shook his head…
“What did it look like?”
“It looked like a pearl,” she said. “It was a pearl.”
“Maybe it rolled behind the seat.”
“Or maybe,” she said, “it’s just gone. Sometimes things disappear and there’s not getting the back. That’s just how it is…I had no business wearing those earrings in the first place,” she said after a while. “No business at all.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Page Number: 85-86
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

She’d been in America for almost twenty years now. But she did not want to cause any trouble—“The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”—or be labeled disloyal. She did not want to be sent back to Japan. “There’s no future for us there. We’re here. Your father’s here. The most important thing is that we stay together.”…
Loyalty. Disloyalty. Allegiance. Obedience.
“Words,” she said, “it’s all just words.”

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Boy, The Man / The Father
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

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Years later the boy would recall standing beside his mother at the service, wondering just what kind of flower it was the man had seen.
A rose? A tulip? A daffodil?
And if he had plucked it. Then what?
He imagined exploding ships, clouds of black smoke, hundreds of B-29s falling down in flames from the sky.

Related Characters: The Woman, The Boy
Page Number: 101-102
Explanation and Analysis:

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Several days later, the street signs appeared. Suddenly there was an Elm Street, a Willow Street, a Cottonwood way… “It doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving here any time soon,” said the boy’s mother.
“At least we know where we are,” said the girl.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy
Related Symbols: Trees
Page Number: 1021
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

And when our mother pushed us gently, but firmly, from behind, and whispered, Go to him, all we could do was stare down at our shoes, unable to move. Because the man who stood there before us was not our father. He was somebody else, a stranger who had been sent back in our father’s place. That’s not him, we said to our mother, That’s not him, but our mother no longer seemed to hear us…He got down on his knees and he took us into his arms and over and over again, he uttered our names, but still we could not be sure it was him.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Girl (speaker), The Boy (speaker), The Man / The Father
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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The Woman Character Timeline in When the Emperor was Divine

The timeline below shows where the character The Woman appears in When the Emperor was Divine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Evacuation Order No. 19
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...third person, the opening chapter follows the perspective of an unnamed, Japanese American character: the woman. In Berkeley, California, on a sunny day in the spring of 1942, the forty-year-old woman... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Nine days later, the woman is still not finished packing. She pulls on her white silk gloves and goes to... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
When the woman gets home, she finishes packing: she rolls up the Oriental rug in the living room,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
The woman packs everything in her house into boxes and carries them into the sunroom. She locks... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
In the kitchen, the woman prepares some eggs and salmon in a bowl and lays it out on the front... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
The woman puts on her gloves and with the twine she bought from the store, she ties... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
When her children come home from school, the woman reminds them they’re “going on a trip” tomorrow. The girl, who is ten, says she... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
As they sit down for dinner, the girl looks into her spoon and asks the woman if anything is wrong with her face. The girl says that people stared at her... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
After the children go to sleep, the woman takes their pet macaw from the birdcage. The bird says, “Get over here,” and the... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
The woman takes a bottle of plum wine, sits down on the floor, and drinks. Without the... (full context)
Chapter 2: Train
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...Nevada desert, it passes a dry lakebed. The girl asks for a lemon and the woman gives it to her. The soldiers had left a crate of lemons and oranges at... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...takes her place in line, she pulls out a ribbon from her hair that her mother had tied there, and she throws it on the ground. A man next to her... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
...smiles at the corner of her lips, which she thinks makes her look like her mother, but also less mysterious. When she walks out, the girl tells Ted that her father... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...and she continues down the aisle back to her seat. The girl looks at her mother and notices lines around her eyes that the girl hadn’t noticed before. The girl looks... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
The boy looks through his bag and says he’s forgotten his umbrella. The woman tells him that you can’t remember everything. The girl interjects, saying that even if you... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
...soldier comes through the train again, telling everyone to put their shades down. The girl’s mother tells her to try to sleep. (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
...breaking—someone has thrown a brick through the window. Startled and confused, the girl asks her mother where White Dog is. The woman says he’s at home. The girl then pulls up... (full context)
Chapter 3: When The Emperor Was Divine
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
The woman, the girl, and the boy are assigned a room in a barrack not far from... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...owned a small nursery, and the cook had always been a cook. One evening, the woman is carrying a bucket of water back to the barracks when she runs into her... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...out of the house while he was still in his slippers. The next day, the woman lit a bonfire in the yard and burned all the letters from their family in... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
In late November, the army plants full-grown trees at the camp. As the woman looks at the trees from the barrack room window, she says that the soil is... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
While the girl withdraws from the family, the woman withdraws almost completely into herself. The woman spends all day inside, staring at the stoves... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
One day, the woman says she cannot bear the endless waiting. She hangs a white sheet around her cot... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...is sent with his wife to a different camp for the “disloyals.” In response, the woman tells the children that they shouldn’t cause trouble because the “nail that sticks up gets... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...with the names of trees appear throughout the camp. Seeing the signs suddenly appear, the woman tells the boy and girl with resignation that it doesn’t look like their family will... (full context)
Chapter 4: In a Stranger’s Backyard
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...after the war, the children notice that the trees seem taller and the rosebush the woman planted in the front yard is no longer there. As they walk towards their house... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
At the front door, the woman takes out the key that has been hanging around her neck for the entire time... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...gone. Despite the mess, the children run through the house, yelling “Fire! Help! Wolf!” The woman walks out the back door and stands under the shade of the tree. The boy... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...them. One man’s house was doused with gasoline and set fire with him inside. The woman makes the children sleep in their clothes because, as she says, “We will not be... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
...amount given to criminals on the day they’re released from prison. With this money, the woman buys thick mattresses for the boy and the girl to sleep on in the front... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
The woman begins looking for work, but every time she applies for a job, the business owners... (full context)
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
...for him for years, they don’t know what to do when they see him. The woman pushes them forward to give the man a hug, but they are unable to move... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
...something else when they give their answers. They wonder if he is thinking of the woman, about how she is at work cleaning another person’s house. Or maybe he is thinking... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
The Model Minority Theme Icon
Imprisonment and Freedom Theme Icon
Social Class and the American Dream Theme Icon
Assimilation and Loss of Identity Theme Icon
Inscrutability and the Unknown Theme Icon
...everywhere burst into bloom, the boy and the girl wander the streets looking for their mother’s rosebush. They go to other gardens and inspect other people’s roses, but they never find... (full context)