When the Emperor was Divine


Julie Otsuka

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The Model Minority Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in When the Emperor was Divine, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Model Minority Theme Icon

The term “model minority” refers to minority groups that have supposedly achieved high levels of socioeconomic success in America. The term initially was used to describe Japanese-Americans, but has since extended to include people from Jewish, East Asian, and South Asian communities as well.

In this novel, Otsuka suggests that the experience of internment acted as a sort of cultural trauma in the minds of Japanese-Americans, causing them to react by seeking conventional forms of success in the United States. For example, as a result of their traumatic experiences in the camp, the boy and girl decide to be obedient and work extra hard so that they will never be mistaken for “the enemy” again. The children hope that by conforming to conventional American definitions of success, they will appear as upstanding citizens and thus be safer from future discrimination.

This fear of returning to the camp essentially forces the children to construct a new, psychological kind of prison for themselves. To be part of the model minority, the children have to repress emotions like anger and frustration—anything that might be seen as negative and used as an excuse for discrimination. They even have to accept the racism and intolerance of their white American peers without complaint, so as not to appear that they want to change the racial status-quo. To conform to the ideal of the model minority, the children have to restrict their behaviors, feelings, and desires. In the end, however, they have simply moved from a physical prison to a prison of the mind.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…

The Model Minority ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Model Minority appears in each chapter of When the Emperor was Divine. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
How often theme appears:
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The Model Minority Quotes in When the Emperor was Divine

Below you will find the important quotes in When the Emperor was Divine related to the theme of The Model Minority.
Chapter 3 Quotes

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:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Nothing’s changed, we said to ourselves. The war had been an interruption, nothing more. We would pick up our lives where we had left off and go on. We would go back to school again. We would study hard, every day, to make up for lost time. We would seek out old classmates…We would listen to their music. We would dress just like they did. We would change our names to sound more like theirs. And if our mother called out to us on the street by our real names we would turn away and pretend not to know her. We would never be mistaken for the enemy again!

Related Characters: The Girl, The Boy
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

I spied on you—you get up at six, you like bacon and eggs, you love baseball, you take your coffee with cream, your favorite color is blue.

Related Characters: The Man / The Father (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis: