Possible Themes: (Identify five possible themes for discussion). Theme is a central message or insight into life revealed by literary work.
2. Remembering vs. Ignorance
3. The Benefits of Silence
Identify external and internal conflicts: (Provide specific examples of each) One Internal conflict in Obasan was how Naomi had a very hard time accepting her painful past. Another internal conflict was how she finally found out, in the end, what had happened to her mother.
For example: All throughout the story she was always wondering what had happened to her since she was little, ever since her mother had left to go to Japan and take care of Naomi’s grandmother. She has asked and already discussed this with her Aunt (her mother’s sister), but she always discreetly avoids the question. And then finally nearing the end of the story, she finally knows what happened to her mother.
Memorable Quotes: Select five quotes and explain the significance of each.
1. Page# 71
“..Mother removes the live chicks first, placing them in her apron . . . there is calm efficiency in her face and she does not speak. Her eyes are steady and matter-of-fact—the eyes of Japanese motherhood. They do not invade and betray. They are eyes that protect, shielding what is hidden most deeply in the heart of the child…”
The significance of this quote is that it suggests the positive and deeply comforting side of traditionally Japanese notions of proper behavior, and also a complete and calm acceptance of another person’s behavior. The expression on her face is an accurate representation of her attitude toward her daughter. Basically, her mother accepts whatever Naomi does, feels, says, and thinks because of her unconditional love for her. The last phrase in this quote implies that Naomi is free to be herself and keep to herself (being as private as she wants).
2. Page# 151
“…We must always honor the wishes of others before our own. We will make the way smooth by restraining emotion . . . To try to meet one’s own needs in spite of the wishes of others is to be “wagamama”—selfish and inconsiderate . . . It is such a tangle trying to decipher the needs and intents of others…”
The significance of this quote is that Naomi channels the voice of Obasan, and her other traditional relatives, in this explanation of what it means to be wagamama versus what it means to be generous and selfless. According to her characterization, it is important to be emotionally restrained not for the sake of your own dignity, but for the sake of other people’s happiness.
3. Page# 232
“…Aunt Emily, are you a surgeon cutting at my scalp with your folders and your filing cards and your insistence on knowing all? The memory drains down the side of my face, but it isn’t enough, is it? It’s your hands . . . pulling the growth from the lining of my walls, but bring back the anesthetist turn on the ether clamp down the gas and bring on the chloroform…”
The significance of this quote describes how Naomi can no longer tolerate her Aunt’s constant nitpicking to remember her childhood. In chapter 29, she goes on a rant and is no longer concerned with suppressing her emotions for the comfort of those around her. Although she is furious, she isn’t necessarily directing her anger at her aunt—it’s more directed at her memories and those who forced these memories into being.
4. Page# 235
“…And then it’s cold . . . the skin . . . grows red and hard and itchy from the flap flap of the boots and the fine hairs on my legs grow coarse there and ugly. I mind growing ugly…”
The significance of this quote is basically Naomi describing (almost like asking her aunt) what those memories felt like having to remember them. The style here is still reflecting her dull anger at her aunt. Another thing is that she scarcely describes her physical appearance, so reading this is almost shocking (finding out that she has raw skin and hairy legs).
5. Page# 271
“…Obasan . . . does not dance to the multicultural piper’s tune or respond to the racist’s slur. She remains in a silent territory, defined by her serving hands. She serves us now, pouring tea into Mr. Barker’s cup. She is unable to see and stops halfway before the cup is full…”
The significance of this final quote is Naomi observing her aunt’s attitude with a mixture of admiration, frustration and sadness. The first implies that Obasan’s silence and refusal to participate in the world makes her superior to the anxious Japanese Canadians who worry about multiculturalism and react in some way to racism, whether with fury, annoyance, or amusement. The next sentence, however, reverses the idea that Obasan’s remove is desirable. She is “defined by her serving hands,” which is stating that her entire identity is wrapped up in waiting on other people. Finally, the last line may be a sly tweak of Naomi herself. She thinks she knows her aunt inside and out, but perhaps Obasan is capable of her own tiny acts of insubordination now and again.
NameRole in Story Adjectives
Megumi Naomi NakaneProtagonist/NarratorSelf-contained
Emily KatoAunt of Naomi/Sister of Naomi’s MotherSmart
Stephen NakaneNaomi’s BrotherTalented
Obasan (Ayako Nakane)Naomi’s AuntQuiet
Uncle (Isamu)Naomi’s Uncle/Brother of Naomi’s FatherKind Father (Tadashi Nakane)Naomi’s FatherElegant
Setting: Where does the setting take place? (Describe the time period and the place) The setting of the story takes place in Canada, 1972 and World War II.
Symbols: A symbol is a person, place, or object that has a concrete meaning in itself and also stands for something beyond itself, such as an idea or feeling. (Identify three or more) Explain the significance of each symbol. 1. Spiders – The spiders symbolize memory. The spiders are quick, almost violent, like Naomi’s memories, running unbidden through her mind. Like the spiders, the memories are dangerous, and Naomi treats them just as she treats the spiders: with a mixture of reverence, fear, fascination, and repulsion. 2. Obasan’s House – Obasan’s House symbolizes Obasan herself. It may seem like it is filled with clutter, but is actually neatly organized objects; some of which will probably remind her of some episode in her life. The library of objects reflect Obasan’s library of memories. And the old, creaky house represents Obasan’s advanced age, her frail body. Naomi says that the house is Obasan’s “blood and bones.”
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