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Free Study Guide-Hiroshima by John Hersey-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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Major Themes

Theme of Survival

One major theme of this book is survival, both of individuals and of the community. The book describes how people react in crises and what this show of their moral character. How each person chooses to rebuild their lives and also how the city of Hiroshima rebuilds itself after the disaster reveals the priorities of each person and the city as a whole. Part of the theme of survival is the portrayal of the human spirit and the will to keep on living even in the face of so much death and destruction. Survival is also demonstrated in how life slowly returns to normalcy for most, even after they live through severe trauma.

Theme of the Effect of War on Civilians

Written one year after the first atomic bombs were dropped on civilians (or any human beings, for that matter), the effect of total war on regular populations is a major theme of the book. Total war means no one is left untouched. This is emphasized in that even though the atomic bomb was dropped to fight the Japanese, even non-Japanese (the German Jesuits) were affected by it. Family homes and businesses are summarily destroyed. Normal civilian life is completely altered and those who escape death must undergo great challenges just to survive. Moreover, the effect of war on civilians involves constant and fearful anticipation of the attack to come, as seen in the first chapter of the book. People cannot live peaceful or normal lives as they are forced to be in a constant state of alert for air raids.

Minor Theme

Theme of Lifeís Frailty and Unpredictability

After the atomic bomb kills 100,000 in Hiroshima, the six main characters of the book wonder why they survived while so many others perished. They reflect that it was small, unconscious, and seemingly coincidental actions that spared their lives at the moment of impact. This is the minor theme of how chance can be a powerful force in life. The theme is also reflected in how many of the characters view the rest of their lives. They see their suffering and hardships from the bombís destruction as unavoidable, nobodyís fault, and their fate. They do not have a sense of entitlement nor do they blame others for their problems. The theme of lifeís unpredictability is also reflected in how most of the main characters continue to suffer misfortune, difficulties, and death even after surviving the bomb.


The mood of the book is very shocking and troubling. It is a literal and uncensored account of the impact of the first atomic bomb to be dropped on human beings. The graphic details of human suffering and the physical effects of radiation and burns are deeply disturbing to the reader. Despite the gruesome details, however, the mood is rather unemotional, since the book is an objective and journalistic retelling of six survivorsí stories. The characters all exhibit the classic Japanese stoicism, further adding to the mood of stolid endurance and survival. The final outcome is varied according to each characterís fate. Some outcomes are uplifting, inspirational, and hopeful as the character overcomes extreme trauma to carve out a meaningful life. Other outcomes are disappointing as the character fails to live up to his or her full potential. These latter outcomes match the dark mood characterizing most of the book, as it describes the bombís effects.

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