Study Guide

Hiroshima Suffering

By John Hersey

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To Father Kleinsorge, an Occidental, the silence in the grove by the river, where hundreds of gruesomely wounded suffered together, was one of the most dreadful and awesome phenomena of his whole experience. (2.47)

Hersey describes Father Kleinsorge being kind of overwhelmed by the sheer number of really injured people that surrounded him after the bombing. The book returns repeatedly to the masses of injured people walking the streets, trapped, or fallen/laying on the ground, unable to help themselves or seek help. Ugh.

Mr. Tanimoto found about twenty men and women on the sandspit. He drove the boat onto the bank and urged them to get aboard. They did not move and he realized that they were too weak to lift themselves. He reached down and took a woman by the hands, but her skin slipped off in huge, glovelike pieces. He was so sickened by this that he had to sit down for a moment. (3.7)

In one of the more disturbing images from the entire book (which is saying something), Hersey describes Mr. Tanimoto's memories of trying to get some injured people to come aboard his boat before realizing they were just completely unable to move. Then, to boot, some people were losing skin to such a severe degree that it could come off in an entire glove from their hands… As you can see, by simply sticking to facts like these, Hersey has no trouble conveying the intense suffering of these residents.

On the other side, at a higher spit, he lifted the slimy living bodies out and carried them up the slope away from the tide. He had to keep consciously repeating to himself, These are human beings. (3.7)

Hersey describes people who were so overcome with injuries/illness that Mr. Tanimoto had trouble thinking of them as people… that's some pretty intense suffering.

Dr. Sasaki had not looked outside the hospital all day; the scene inside was so terrible and so compelling that it had not occurred to him to ask any questions about what had happened beyond the windows and doors. Ceilings and partitions had fallen; plaster, dust, blood, and vomit were everywhere. Patients were dying by the hundreds, but there was nobody to carry away the corpses. (3.10)

Dr. Sasaki was so overwhelmed by the suffering and injuries of the people in his immediate vicinity that he couldn't devote any energy/thought to what was actually going on beyond the walls of the hospital. He ended up at the hospital working straight for days trying to help all the injured who flocked in from the outside.

Miss Sasaki lay in steady pain in the Goddess of Mercy Primary School, at Hatsukaichi, the fourth station to the southwest of Hiroshima on the electric train. An internal infection still prevented the proper setting of the compound fracture of her lower left leg. A young man who was in the same hospital and who seemed to have grown fond of her in spite of her unremitting preoccupation with her suffering, or else just pitied her because of it, lent her a Japanese translation of de Maupassant, and she tried to read the stories, but she could concentrate for only four or five minutes at a time. (4.5)

Miss Sasaki ended up being the most grievously injured (physically speaking) of the book's six subjects. She sustained a nasty break in her leg that, to make matters even worse, no one seemed to know how to fix/disinfect. And she hadn't even received help for quite a while. As a result of these circumstances, she was not a happy camper.

When Father Kleinsorge arrived at the hospital, he was terribly pale and very shaky. He complained that the bomb had upset his digestion and given him abdominal pains. His white blood count was three thousand (five to seven thousand is normal), he was seriously anemic, and his temperature was 104. (4.13)

Although Father Kleinsorge had been mostly up on his feet after the blast, he definitely ended up feeling the effects of radiation poisoning. He was so badly off that that doctors thought he wasn't going to make it, and he had health problems for the rest of his life.

His ridiculous scratches puzzled everyone. For a few days, they would mend, and then, when he moved around, they would open up again. (4.14)

The scratches Father Kleinsorge sustained in the blast were unusual in that they seemed like no big deal at the time, but they kept opening up afterwards unexpectedly and looking pretty gnarly.

Mrs. Nakamura lay indoors with Myeko. They both continued sick, and though Mrs. Nakamura vaguely sensed that their trouble was caused by the bomb, she was too poor to see a doctor and so never knew exactly what the matter was. (4.15)

Mrs. Nakamura also ended up with radiation poisoning after the bombing, and she suffered with lingering health problems as a result. Although she eventually got health benefits from the government to help her out, for a while it was dicey—she was often too sick to work, and too poor to get medical care.

Miss Sasaki, who had already been moved three times, twice by ship, was taken at the end of August to an engineering school, also at Hatsukaichi. Because her leg did not improve but swelled more and more, the doctors at the school bound it with crude splints and took her by car, on September 9th, to the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroshima. (4.6)

It took quite a long time for Miss Sasaki to get her health problems resolved, as doctors bounced her from hospital to hospital trying to figure out the best way to help her.

Late in February, 1946, a friend of Miss Sasaki's called on Father Kleinsorge and asked him to visit her in the hospital. She had been growing more and more depressed and morbid; she seemed little interested in living. Father Kleinsorge went to see her several times. On his first visit, he kept the conversation general, formal, and yet vaguely sympathetic, and did not mention religion. Miss Sasaki herself brought it up the second time he dropped in on her. Evidently she had had some talks with a Catholic. She asked bluntly, "If your God is so good and kind, how can he let people suffer like this?" She made a gesture which took in her shrunken leg, the other patients in her room, and Hiroshima as a whole. (4.26)

Miss Sasaki's overall health—mental and physical—improved dramatically when a friend introduced her to Father Kleinsorge. Even though she didn't start out religious, talking to him seemed to improve her attitude and mood, which seemed to help her recovery. Their meeting definitely marked the beginning of life getting a lot better for Miss Sasaki.

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