John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima is a masterpiece that depicts the life after the bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima during Second World War. It tells a story of six people who survived and dealt with the consequences of the horrifying event and through whose eyes the readers see the life of the post-bombing Japan.
After reading the novel, the readers understand many things regarding the bombing such as reasons behind it. The city was a perfect target because it many Japanese soldiers had been stationed in it. Hiroshima was also headquarters of the army divisions and base for military equipment. Therefore, after bombing the city, it would be possible for the American forces to destroy the remains of the enemy army and end the war in that area. That was a reason the American forces had chosen the city because they viewed it as a tool to bring the victory closer to them. In addition, due to the geographic location of Hiroshima, this task was relatively easy to be accomplished. Thus, the American officials had paid attention to the fact that Hiroshima had so many soldiers stationed there, which ruled out the civilians’ responsibility and made the city a perfect target of the atomic attack.
It is easier for the readers to understand the entire atmosphere in the city after the event as they read about the central characters. The heroes are real people whose emotions enable those who have not experienced the bombing to witness it while reading the book. Among the six major characters, there is a memorable figure of Mr. Tanimoto, a reverend in the city. The author states that he turned out to be:
A small man, quick to talk, laugh, and cry. He wears his black hair parted in the middle and rather long; the prominence of the frontal bones just above his eyebrows and the smallness of his mustache, mouth, and chin give him a strange, old-young look, boyish and yet wise, weak and yet fiery. (HERSEY, P. 2)
Hersey was able to capture Tanimoto’s personality perfectly and he described his controversial nature with the words:
He moves nervously and fast, but with a restraint which suggests that he is a cautious, thoughtful man. He showed, indeed, just those qualities in the uneasy days before the bomb fell. …Mr. Tanimoto had been carrying all the portable things from his church… to a house that belonged to a rayon manufacturer in Koi, two miles from the center of town. (HERSEY, P.2)
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Mr. Tanimoto was always ready for something to happen, and he reacted to the attack very fast. The reverend was outside when the bombing began, and he rescued himself immediately. The author states that:
Mr. Tanimoto took four or five steps and threw himself between two big rocks in the garden. He bellied up very hard against one of them… He felt a sudden pressure, and then splinters and pieces of board and fragments of tile fell on him. (HERSEY, P. 3)
Thanks to his quick orientation, he was able to save himself and help others afterwards. Tanimoto did everything he could to help other victims. While bringing the victims to a safer side of the river, he dedicated all his strength to the rescuing efforts. Thanks to him, many people were saved. The novel concludes with the description of Mr. Tanimoto’s life after the bombing. He no longer worked as a reverend in his church because it had been ruined with the bombs, and he no longer possessed the energy he used to have before the war.
Despite the sad outcome, the author does provide readers with the anecdotes and humorous remarks while describing this and other characters (like saying that Tanimoto was quick to talk, laugh, and cry). These anecdotes are very important because they help to construct a complex character readers can relate to. They see real people with powerful emotions who lead routine lives and who are very similar to them. Therefore, the readers begin to question the morality of the bombing and the war in general, and it makes them realize how important it is to prevent other wars in the future.
While talking about the bombing, the author did not omit the side effects of the radiation that had affected the victims. The effects included nausea, vomiting, weakness in the body, and diarrhea. Some people also got their throats and mouths inflamed because of the radiation. Another side effect was the fever; and some victims suffered from rapid emaciation, which later led to death. In addition, the victims suffered from less severe effects such as loss of appetite, dizziness, and they had to deal with posttraumatic syndrome, which affected their psychological health greatly.
The novel is good at showing all of the consequences bombing had brought; and it makes the readers understand how little doctors could do about it. First, the doctors did not know what they were working with because they had possessed very little knowledge about the nature of the bombing. As a result, they could not provide the victims with an adequate and efficient help. Since radiation was a relatively new subject, the professionals knew little of dealing with it. That made the efforts of the medical staff very ineffective, and the same could be applied to the victims because they did not even realize the risks and possible consequences of radiation. That is the reason why many people had died immediately after the bombing because they did not receive the necessary treatment. In addition, the general state of shock, chaos in the city, and lack of professionals affected the overall rescue process and increased the amount of victims.
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The novel takes into account the many aspects of Hiroshima bombing and it does not skip any parts of the incident, being a just account of the life before and after the attack. It presents the readers with a vivid description of the events; and alongside telling a gripping story, it raises important questions about war, morality, conflict resolution, and the role of humanity on this planet.