When The Emperor Was Divine and Negative Binaries

In Julie Otsuka’s heartwrenching story When the Emperor was Divine, she compiles five stories from the persepctives of five different members of a family. The novel tells the tales of a Japanese American family living in Berkely, California before World War II, their experience of being sent away to the internment camps during the war and what it was like coming home when the war was over. The stories she told were loosely based on events that happened to her own family. The experience Otsuka elaborates on while narrating the stories connect greatly to Freud’s theory of otherness and that one can only recognize themselves when they realize their differences from another person. Freud’s theory coinsides with how the Japanese Americans were treated during the war. Japanese Americans were isolated from the rest of the country and treated as prisoners and slaves because of their differences from Americans. Additionally, in the novel Otsuka furthers the U.S’s use of philosophical theories when explaining why the Japanese were put in interment camps from the forefront of America’s involvemnt of the war. The U.S loosely went along the guidelines of Benjamin’s theory of mutal recognition as well. Government officals as well as citizens of the U.S recognized the physical similarities between Japanese Americans and people living in Japan and grouped them into one whole. Giving them the ability to make the assumption that just because Japanese Americans originated from Japan they were presumed to be dangerous and spies of war. While at the same time they created the binaries of Japanese/American to give them the ability and the mindset that it was acceptable to control and oppress another group. Otsuka’s story opens the eyes to a lot of things many people are not educated enough on and it shows the importance of learning about the countries mistakes as well as triumphs.

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