Use Of A Tortoise In Julie Otsuka's When The Emperor Was Divine

analytical Essay
936 words
936 words

In Julie Otsuka’s novel, When the Emperor was Divine, the boy’s emotions are embodied through animals. In mid 1942, the boy and his family are displaced from their home in Berkeley, CA, and relocated to an internment camp. The family is forcibly imprisoned in response to Executive Order 9066, due to their Japanese heritage. The boy’s initial hope and innocence are expressed through a tortoise. The disappearance of these virtues become evident through the animal’s demise. Additionally, images of wild horses display the boy’s desire for freedom and an identity, while their death illustrates his inability to aspire to such things. A tortoise and horses manifest the boy’s internal struggles with his internment. The life and death of the creatures …show more content…

The image of a tortoise conveys the boy’s endeavours to live and maintain hope of homecoming. Early in the family’s internment, the boy traps a tortoise in a box. Additionally, he inscribes his family’s identification number on its shell. As the boy sleeps, he fixates on the turtle’s claws against the side of the box, which indicate the boy’s intentions to leave the camp. “ his dreams, he could hear its claws scrabbling against the side of the box” (60). It is apparent through the tortoise’s entrapment and identification number that it is a symbol of the boy’s captivity. Much like the boy’s hope to abscond from the camp and continue his life, the tortoise strives to escape the box. Despite being displaced by his own government, the boy maintains a desire to live his life, and one day, return to his home. Later …show more content…

During the train ride to the internment camp, the boy marvels at wild mustangs through the window. He perceives the dust that they leave behind as proof of their individuality, a privilege that his captivity denies him. He notices, “...wherever they went they left behind great billowing clouds of dust as proof of their passage” (45). The boy’s fixation on the dust represent his longing for an identity. His internment strips him of any kind of individuality, and reduces him to a number. Similarly to the way the horses leave proof of themselves, the boy covets the ability to be significant and recognized as a unique human being. Not only do the horses symbolize the boy’s desire for an identity, but they also illustrate his craving for freedom. This is evident as, “He watched the horses as they galloped toward the mountains and he said, very softly, “They are going away” (46). As the boy watches the horses, he envies their ability to come and go as they please. He comprehends that he has no jurisdiction over his situation, and posses hope that he will one day achieve freedom, in the same way as the horses. Midway through the family’s internment, the boy converses with his mother, and inquires where the horse meat served at the canteen is from. She responds, “most of the horsemeat come from wild horses. They round them up in the desert” (89). The horsemeat manifests the boy’s loss of longing for an

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes julie otsuka's novel, when the emperor was divine, where the boy and his family are displaced from their home in berkeley, ca, and relocated to an internment camp
  • Analyzes how the image of a tortoise conveys the boy's endeavours to live and maintain hope of homecoming.
  • Analyzes how the horse symbolizes the boy's loss of identity and lack of freedom.
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