When The Emperor Was Divine Leads The Reader Through The Journey Of One Family

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Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor was Divine leads the reader through the journey of one family that represents many as they are placed in an internment camp for the crime of being Japanese. Otsuka brings to light the persecution of Japanese-Americans through her use of symbols prominent throughout the book. Some of the most important being the symbol of stains, their family dog, and horses. Each has a double-meaning pointing towards the theme of widespread racism. Racism that led many Japanese-Americans into believing that they were guilty.
Stains are the predominant symbol in the very beginning of the novel. By definition, stains are things that are not removed easily. Early in the novel the woman goes to the hardware store where Joe Lundy is working the counter. As he speaks, he works at a “a dark stain that would not go away” on the cash register (Outsuka 5). The stain that he attempts to remove is the symbol of Japanese-Americans, as they are seen as undesirable. Unlike most white Americans, both featured in the novel and in the historical event itself, Joe Lundy holds no apparent ill-will towards the woman and seems friendly. He tells the woman she can pay for the tape and twine that she purchases later, probably knowing full well she won’t be coming back anytime soon. Next, he then gives her, “two caramel candies wrapped in gold foil” (Outsuka 6) for her children. He even compliments her red dress on the woman’s way out of the door. Despite his kind gesture and

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