Today, society has become a boisterous world of communication. From telephone conversations to live Internet chat and e-mail, the world has never before been quite so in touch. In the novel Obasan, by Joy Kogawa, Naomi Nakane does not have technology to communicate. Instead, she faces the dilemma of communicating at all. From her family, Naomi is shown the many faceted truths of speech and communication. From strong, silent Obasan, to stubborn, resolute Aunt Emily, Naomi finds that one can correspond with others through silence as well as through speech. As a child, Naomi spends much of her life in non-communicative silence, only to help further the distance between herself and her mother. As Naomi grows into womanhood and beyond, she discovers that in speech lays understanding and, unfortunately, pain and sorrow. Joy Kogawa’s tale of Naomi Nakane shows how one young girl can live a tortured life and find peace living life in between silence speech.
Naomi’s relationship with Obasan is an influential one, molded from love, respect, and understanding. Naomi describes Obasan’s way of communication best when she say declares, “The language of her grief is silence. She has learned it well, its idioms its nuances. Over the years the silence with her small body has grown large and powerful”(Obasan 17). Obasan’s silent stance provides a firm starting point for Naomi to return to when she needs to find her bearings. Obasan provides Naomi only positive reinforcement when it comes down to determining the right and wrongs of silence. Obasan used her silence to protect the children from the many faceted horror known as truth. The truth behind Naomi’s mother was requested to be kept from Naomi and her brother, but it was also potentially damaging to them as well. “The memories were drowned in a whirlpool of protective silence… For the sake of the children, calmness was maintained”(Obasan 26).
Aunt Emily believes that the only way to live at peace in the present, you must live in peace with your past. Emily gets this across to Naomi when she goes on a rant and says
“You have to remember. You are your history. If you cut any of it off you’re an amputee. Don’t deny the past. Remember everything. If you’re bitter, be bitter. Cry it out! Scream! Denial is gangrene. Look at you, Naomi, shuffling back and forth be...
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...ng white clothing. Stephen does not talk because those who talk draw attention, which is precisely what Stephen does not want to do. Instead of speech or writing, Stephen uses music as his voice. Worst of all, Stephen distances himself from the family, moves away and attempts to rid himself of all Japanese ties, only calling home once a year. As Naomi’s last immediate family member, Stephen only hampers the healing process, which Naomi must attend to.
Naomi’s childhood, a terrible and brutal struggle for such a young delicate flower, yields to a blossoming adulthood of understanding and compassion. Although her wounds will never fully heal, Naomi has come to terms with her mother’s absence and her family’s silence. While Stephen does not adapt at all, and instead runs from his problems, Naomi allows herself to become immersed in the flood of her problems. Naomi Nakane spends the early years of her life trying to determine where in the confusion she will take her stand in the battle between verbal communication and silent acceptance, only to find that she has no choice and fate has decided that she will remain silent, longing to speak.
Obasan by Joy Kogawa
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