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Displacement in When The Emperor Was Divine by Julia Otsuka

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When the Emperor Was Divine by Julia Otsuka depicts the situation of the Japanese American families at the time of World War II. The story begins after the attack on Pearl Harbour in the spring of 1942 and revolves around the life of a Japanese family consisting of a father, mother, son, and daughter. At the time of War, the family was moved to the internment camp along with many other Japanese- American families. The book connects the identity crisis, discrimination, and public racisms caused due to the evacuation by the government. These factors led to the characters to suffer from traumatic experiences.

In the name of providing protection to the Japanese American, the government forced the people to leave the country and arrested the characters. (Otsuka 70) This type of behavior depicts the invalid racist behavior which leads to traumatic experiences with the characters. The mother had little time to prepare for moving to the internment camp. Her reaction to the forced movement was mixed in wat that in the beginning she was unemotional and planned to kill the dog and free the dogs. Later she is unable to stay the same way and gets traumatic symptoms which make her rethink all her actions. She doubts that did she close the light of the front porch or did she close the stove off. 

Before leaving for the internment camp, the mother went to buy a bucket in the nearby departmental store. The shopkeeper asked her that it is not a problem if she pays him back later for the bucket and continued to clean the black color stain on the desk with a rug.

The mother gets tensed when she realizes that it is time for her to put the rice up to be cooked when she is on her way to the internment camp. This shows how much she is used to her monotonous life and gets uncomfortable when she is not able to follow it. Out of anguish with her present situation, she loses interest in the reality and does not like to associate with other people in the camp. She could get a lot of support from talking to the people on the camp, but she chooses not to do so. The internment camp is supposed to be for the protection of the people and help them adjust to the new environment but there the characters had a hard time getting used to the new and challenging situations.

The internment camp disturbed the mental condition of the mother rather than making her feel comfortable and safe. The detention of the father is the most dramatic and offensive incident, which widely affects the whole family and specifically the son and directly causes some disturbing symptoms. The mother always had the feeling in her mind that there are men at the door all the time just like the night her husband got arrested. (Otsuka 94) The father also feels that there is always some kind of danger to the family at all times as someone is always keeping an eye on them in suspicion. 

The father admitted to all the accusations which he was charged of in anger, disappointment and helplessness. He does this as he believes that confession is the only way out because the authority in the camp will not listen to his justification. When he returns home from the camp, he does not talk about his experience in the camp and the way he was treated to anyone in the family. (Otsuka 133) From the time the father was gone, the son had a deep negative impact on his mind. He was shocked from seeing the image of his father been taken away in slippers and without giving him the chance to say anything in justification.

The father’s arrest led to his custody, based on this act, it is evident that the Japanese people in the country feel racism and are treated like outsiders. Due to this, the boy blames himself for what all is happening with his father. He believes that it is because of his behavior that his father is suffering, (Otsuka 57) however the truth is that they are treated unfairly which stems out racism. The trees outside die because of the harsh environment and the boy blames himself; he thinks that he it is his fault that he is not able to receive any mails from his father and he should correct his behavior. 

Otsuka describes the wartime discrimination and racism conducted by the government and the people. Beginning from the unnamed characters of the family, their traumatic experiences in the camp and during the train journey illustrates the severity of the situation created for the Japanese American. The irresponsible arrangement at the camp leads to discrimination and public racism in the mind of the Japanese. There can be many assumptions we might think about as readers about how the government could have handled the situation. For instance, situations would have been different if the government treated the Japanese as citizens (which they are) and educated. On the other hand, maybe the major part of the people are more rational and correct for behaving in a way. However, what has happened cannot be changed, we can just be enlightened by looking at the future.  

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