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Free Study Guide-Hiroshima by John Hersey-Free Online Book Notes Summary
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Miss Toshiko Sasaki

The book introduces Miss Sasaki as a personnel clerk at the East Asia Tin Works factory. She is in her early twenties and lives with her parents and young siblings at the time of the blast. She is a hard worker, and engaged to be married. When the atomic bomb falls on her city, her left leg is severely injured from bookshelves that fall on her from the impact of the bomb, and she is left crippled. She has a strong spirit, however, and overcomes her hardships to become a Catholic nun who is very active in helping orphaned children.

Herseyís account of Miss Sasakiís life is perhaps the most inspirational of all the main characters. Her choices after surviving the A-bomb demonstrate that the disaster strengthened her instead of making her bitter. In her initial deep despair, she finds hope in the Catholic faith and her life takes a very different turn. This change in her outlook is largely due to Father Kleinsorgeís dedicated and sacrificial witness to her. Miss Sasakiís admirable work with orphans, the elderly and the dying uses her talents to the fullest; she most likely would not have had these opportunities to blossom had she been spared the bomb, married the fiancée who rejected her, and settled down as a typical Japanese housewife. In this way, she allows the horrors of the atomic bomb to fortify her as a human being, and in turn uses this strength to heal others. Her character represents the triumphant human spirit, which overcomes difficulty to carve out a meaningful life after tragedy.

Dr. Masakazu Fujii

Dr. Fujii is a middle-aged physician who is comfortable financially even in the last days of Japanís losing war, since he owns his own private hospital clinic. Hersey describes him as being rather self-absorbed, enjoying fine whiskey, relaxation, and the company of foreigners. He is not completely unsympathetic to those around him, but throughout the book is fairly focused on himself. His hospital is completely destroyed in the blast and he is moderately injured, but he soon recovers both his health and fortune and continues to live a pleasure- filled life. Hersey supposes that Dr. Fujiiís pleasure-seeking lifestyle may have served as a way to forget his psychological trauma from the bombing. Yet it seems to the reader as only an exaggeration of his pre-bomb tendency toward leisure and good whiskey. Dr. Fujiiís choice of how to live his life after the atomic bomb contrasts starkly to most of the other characters. While the atomic tragedy strengthens Miss Sasaki and spurs her on to help others, for example, Dr. Fujii sinks further into a self-absorbed life that keeps him distant even from his own family. Mrs. Nakamura toils amidst illness for her childrenís survival, yet Dr. Fujii suffers no such hardship.

Dr. Fujii is not only the most self-serving but also the most tragic character for the reader. It is significant that Dr. Fujii is the only one of the major characters to avoid any physical illnesses from his radiation exposure. Yet ironically, by the end of his life he is a vegetable because of a freak gas leak accident that was perhaps due to his eagerness to move into his new, grandiose home. Sadly, his marital relationship sours over the years as he focuses on material possessions and earns a playboy reputation. His legacy, moreover, is marred when his widow fights her own son over the possessions he left behind. His character represents the emptiness and futility of living life only for oneself.

Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura

Mrs. Nakamura is a tailorís widow with three young children, whose husband has died in the war. She struggles to make ends meet both before and after the atomic attack by using her husbandís sewing machine to get tailoring work. She suffers mild radiation sickness for most of her life, which makes it very difficult for her to support her children, but four decades after the bomb was dropped, she is an active citizen whose children have grown and found happiness. In telling Mrs. Nakamuraís story, Hersey makes the point that although her quality of life gradually improves over the years after the bombing, she can never really escape her atom bomb experience. She struggles less and less financially and even the terrible memories recede in her mind as her life regains a sense of calm normalcy. However, her body remains weak, and when she faints while dancing at the flower festival in 1985, she is unpleasantly forced to remember her limitations during an otherwise happy event.

The readerís impression of Mrs. Nakamura is a woman of great perseverance and courage. Although Hersey gives few revealing insights into her thoughts or feelings, as compared to the other characters, the reader nonetheless admires her selfless work to support her three children. In this sense, Mrs. Nakamuraís story is the truest survival tale of any of the characters.

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