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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER TWO: The Fire
In the second chapter, each character moves from the initial impression that the damage of the bomb is localized to the realization that the entire city has been affected. This is difficult to comprehend, since they heard neither explosive sounds nor a large group of airplanes overhead. Instead, they saw a single, blinding flash and felt a powerful force that ripped houses apart, made people fly several feet, and instantly destroyed the downtown of Hiroshima. In their early assumption that they had experienced a single, small bombing, each character focused on the people around them to varying degrees. Soon, however, overwhelmed by the widespread destruction and suffering, they concentrated on the survival of themselves and their immediate family and companions.
Rev. Tanimoto believed a bomb had hit the house he was standing next to, and was thus puzzled to see blood dripping from the faces of soldiers who had been in a nearby cave. He ran up a hill from which he could see the whole city of Hiroshima, and was shocked that as far as he could see, the city was awash in thick smoke. Panicked with thoughts of his wife, baby, and parishioners, he rushed toward the center of town. On his way, he encountered crowds fleeing in the opposite direction, most badly burned and many graphically maimed. Everywhere, people were trapped under buildings that were on fire but no one stopped to help, as they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of need. Rev. Tanimoto felt guilty for not being wounded, but pressed on, and met up with his wife and child by coincidence. Seeing that they were all right, he headed for his church and neighborhood. On the way, he stopped to help victims who cried out for water. He then found a boat and ferried the wounded across a river from Asano Park to escape the encroaching fires. Near the end of the day, Rev. Tanimoto encountered a neighbor woman who would not let go of her dead infant, hoping that her husband would find them and be able to see the little girl once more.
Mrs. Nakamura, having freed herself from the rubble of her fallen house, dug for her buried children in a frenzy. Amazingly, all three were unhurt. Mrs. Nakamura noticed that all the houses in her neighborhood had collapsed, and felt confused. After offering bandage to a neighbor whose baby was badly cut, she left with her children for Asano Park, a designated evacuation area for her community. When they arrived, they drank from the river but became immediately nauseated and vomited the entire day. Father Kleinsorge offered to evacuate her and her family with the other priests, but she said she would wait until the next day since they were all sick.
After the bomb hit, Father Kleinsorge ended up in the garden of his mission compound in his underwear, wandering about in confusion. He had suffered small cuts but nothing more. He helped dig out those nearby who were buried under collapsed buildings. Upon returning to his room, he was surprised by how some seemingly sturdy things were blown out of place and crushed, but vulnerable things such as a papier-mâché suitcase were intact. Father Kleinsorge helped the shell-shocked Mr. Fukai, who was secretary of the Catholic diocese, to evacuate, by carrying him on his back for many blocks. Mr. Fukai escaped, however, and ran back toward the fire. The group never saw him again and assumed he immolated himself in the flames. When Father Kleinsorge arrived at Asano Park with the other Catholics, he began giving water to the wounded and working with Rev. Tanimoto to assist people. He noticed that some people who appeared not to have suffered any wounds mysteriously died later in the day. He was very moved by the silence of the suffering; even the children did not complain or cry out in pain.
The bomb had sent Dr. Fujii and his private hospital into the Kyo River, and the doctor was suspended in the water by two tightly-gripping beams. When he finally freed himself, he studied his neighborhood and was puzzled to see so many houses collapsed and such a great number of horribly wounded coming across the bridge. One doctor friend he met guessed the attack had been a self-scattering cluster of bombs ("Molotov flower basket"). After freeing two of his nurses from the rubble, he waded back into the river to avoid the spreading fire, and moved to a sandpit near Asano Park. He was curious about the serious burns he saw on some victims, and by the sheer number of dead and dying from the city. When he evacuated to his family’s house five miles from the center of Hiroshima, even that structure had lost its roof and windows.
Dr. Sasaki, though unwounded, faced the daunting task of treating over 10,000 maimed and hurt from all over the city as one of six functioning doctors remaining in the Red Cross Hospital. He lost his glasses in the blast so borrowed a nurses’. Dr. Sasaki had to cope with the cries of the wounded outside the hospital building, begging to be treated, and the pleas of those well enough to come inside, asking for help for their loved ones.
As he slowly realized the extent of the human suffering in the city, he became a robot, treating people mindlessly for hours and hours.
Miss Sasaki remained unconscious for three hours after being buried under a pile of books and building parts when the bomb hit. She felt tremendous pain in her left leg and feared it had been cut off. When men finally dug her out along with her co- workers, her leg was not severed but seriously broken and cut. She could not even hop on her own, so someone carried her to a courtyard where he set up a rustic shelter for her and two other grossly maimed victims. She was forgotten there for the rest of the day.
In this chapter, the reader sees the initial horrors of the atomic experience from the eyes of the survivors. The significance of the book’s writing style becomes clear in this context: Remarkable and shocking events are told in such a straight- forward manner, without commentary, that they are almost more shocking. The reader has the space to react on his/her own to what is unfolding. For example, Father Kleinsorge assumes that the Hoshijima women are dead under their collapsed house, and begins pulling out one body by the hair. When the body protests in pain, he realizes she is alive. The reader is further told that both women are largely unhurt. This small event is quite impactful for the reader after hearing of so many in Hiroshima left under their houses to burn to death, or no one even trying to ascertain if they are still alive. We realize that Father Kleinsorge could have easily left the women in their buried state since he assumes them dead. The fact that they are not only alive but even in good condition shocks us into thinking about the hundreds who no doubt lived through the initial blast but perished unnecessarily for lack of rescue.
The uncertainty and fear from the bomb’s devastation was not simply a one-time occurrence. The survivors continue to be terrified throughout the day as they wonder what happened. When people become nauseated, they think the Americans dropped gas to poison them. When they hear weather planes overhead that afternoon, they fear the Americans are returning to attack them again. When raindrops start falling, some panic that the Americans are dropping gasoline to set fire to them. Wind storms and the city-wide fires cause as much damage and deaths as the original bomb’s impact, making August 6 a full day of horrors. In addition, most surviving citizens are badly wounded and nauseated, without adequate food, shelter, or water. They have suffered the deaths of scores of family and friends, and fear the fates of many others still missing.
This chapter explores the phenomenon of people’s reaction to the massive suffering around them and their own survival needs. Except for Rev. Tanimoto and Father Kleinsorge, the main characters quickly become self-absorbed in their own injuries, escape plans, and the fates of their own families. The chapter describes how this is the case for the whole city. Although everywhere people are trapped under burning buildings, no one heeds their desperate cries for help. Some try in vain to get help to free their trapped relatives and have to watch them die in the flames. Hersey attributes this self- focused behavior on the overwhelming human need juxtaposed to people’s limited powers and their state of shock. The needs are simply too great for most to even imagine doing anything.