Kogawa, World Literatures in English Course 2000
Obasan: Immigrant Identities and Silence
1. What is the significance of the stone imagery?
The bible-- "a white stone"--"a new name written"
epigraph--"The word is stone."
Uncle's stone bread (15-16) and his mug

2. Discuss other images in the novel: 

  • the Uncle, associated with the coulee,  the ocean and Chief Sitting Bull
  • the family as a knit blanket (24-25)
  • Fairy-Tale Images
  • Images of Insects and Animals; of broken things
3. Gender and Japanese Immigrant Identities
  • How does Naomi describe herself and the two aunts and why?
  • Naomi--sansei--spinster, tense (9), numb (41)
  • Obasan--issei--ancient (14, 18-19), language of grief--silence (17)
  • Emily--nisei-- energetic, visionary (38),  "word warrior" (39), "white blood cells" (41)/ Canadian identity--"This is my own, my native land"
  • Mother--kibei--born in Canada, raised in Japan-- "yasashi kokro" (56) 
4. Language and Silence
¡§To the issei, honor and dignity is expressed through silence, the twig bending with the wind¡K.The sansei view silence as a dangerous kind of cooperation with the enemy.¡¨                                                         --Joy Kagawa in an interview with Susan Yim
  • two kinds of silence: 
    • a silence that will not speak (protective silence) 
    • a silence that can not speak (silence about repressed memory and the unknown past.