Hiroshima by John Heresy, at its time a radical book, filling the wests minds with what the bomb truly was. Now, a classic, frozen in time with a legacy behind. In this blog post, I will provide you with a critical summary of Hiroshima by John Hersey!
I believe Heresy’s plot choice affected the continued success of the book. Hersey shied away from regular storytelling styles and took a different approach. Hersey focused on six characters. Throughout the book Heresy follows these six characters through their experiences with the bomb, and its aftermath. Hersey briefly introduced the characters before the bomb, and their stories throughout all chaos that ensued the bomb. This is effective because
it is different. It isn’t your same old recollection of a historic, traumatic event. This is the most traumatic event in history, viewed through the oppositions lens. Hersey’s storytelling style is also elevated with these methods because by using six characters, he has more reach. Hersey uses these six characters to branch out to more characters. By doing this, Hersey is able to create a narrative and really allow the reader to scope out the mass devastation the bomb caused. On the American side, the atomic affects were mostly unknown , and the general public had little to no knowledge as to what the bomb had caused. Hersey’s storytelling method where he uses six characters to branch out to more characters, creates a community. A community of people suffering from the consequences of the bomb. The Japanese people’s stoicism just to survive. In turn humanizing the Japanese from the Americans point of view. I believe this is part of the insane success the book has had. Being able to show destruction, and lives lost, doing so in an unorthodox method.
Another reason why I enjoyed the book so much, is
the way Hersey humanized the Japanese people. The Japanese (along with many other countries) took part in total war: “The contenders are willing to make any sacrifice in lives and other resources to obtain a complete victory.” – google definition. Because of this, especially by the Americans, the Japanese were barely even considered humans. The Americans took part in racist propaganda, and more towards the Japanese. With VJ-Day the world thought that they had won against monsters, savages to say the least. With Hiroshima, Hersey is able to show that the Japanese people, are just people. He made me ask myself, “Despite all they did, did the Japanese deserve this?” This opened my eyes and I had to close my book and think about it. Were the things the Japanese people did so bad, that they deserve to have their “eye sockets were hollow, the fluid from their melted eyes had run down their cheeks. Their mouths were mere swollen, puss covered wounds, which they could not bear to stretch enough to admit the spout of a teapot.” – Pg. 72 The Details Are Being Investigated. Hersey’s book was so successful and the success was more widespread because of this. He humanized the Japanese and helped the world understand that they are humans just like everybody else.
I have mentioned this briefly before in an analysis for the book, but as it ay not appear, I would argue Hersey was purposely tone deaf while writing Hiroshima. Upon first read through, it seems like Hersey is obviously on the Japanese “side.” Why else would he write a book about their hardships and what they had to go through with the atomic bomb? Right? Wrong. Hersey’s story is in the lens of the Japanese. Because, “the wests” side was so predominant, there was no Japanese side. Hersey brought that Japanese side to the public. This way at least the publics decision as to “what side they were on” could be fair.
But this brings up another talking point. Heresy’s intention when writing this book wasn’t to show both sides of the story. He knew that would automatically come with writing such a controversial book. I believe Hersey’s driving reason behind the book, is the bomb. The Atomic Bomb. “There, in the tin factory, in the first moment of the atomic age, a human being was crushed by books.” – Pg.28 A Noiseless Flash. The image this sentence provides is powerful because is juxtapose disparate elements. In the atomic age books are old fashioned, a thing of the past, but the bomb almost beyond human comprehension. This quote suggests human knowledge turning on the people who created it to destroy them. The fact that in the previous lines books fall on Mss. Miss. Sasaki symbolizes this. Hersey’s thesis is the bomb. He makes you question the bomb. Every small little detail about it, he makes you question.
All in all, Hiroshima by John Hersey is a book that questions your strongest beliefs. If it could to that to the prideful American’s just a year after the bomb. It will do it to you. Trust me.