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Naomi's Conflicted Identity in Obasan by Kogawa

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In the novel, Obasan, Kogawa uses Naomi’s character development to convey that early life racism, internment and abandonment from loved ones can lead to one feeling confused about their identity.

The narrator of the novel, Naomi, goes through a series of traumatic events as a child, most importantly internment, sexual molestation and abandonment from her loved ones. Before being sent to Slocan (a ghost town) by the Canadian Government, Naomi was being molested by her next-door neighbour Old Man Gower, who repeatedly told her to not to tell her mother anything. She later states that this incident, in particular, was the one that separated her from her mother.

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Further on in the novel, at a hospital in Slocan, Naomi brings up a racist term, the Yellow Peril. “Yellow” is a racist colour-metaphor for Japanese Canadians. Naomi states ” to be yellow in the Yellow Peril game is to be weak and small. Yellow is to be chicken. I am not yellow.” (Kogawa pg. 217). She associated the colour yellow with weakness, showing how she believes that to be Japanese is to be weak. She also states that yellow baby chicks grow up to be white, Naomi associates that thinking with herself as well. She thinks as she grows older she will turn white, meaning that as she gets older, other people will recognize her to be Canadian. Due to this belief, Naomi struggles with her identity as a whole.

Notably, as a child, Naomi acknowledges that she is culturally bilingual and she has a dual identity, she states “Who is it who teaches me that in the language of eyes a stare is an invasion and a reproach? Grandma Kato? Obasan? Uncle? Mother? Each one raised in Japan, speaks the same language; but Aunt Emily and Father, born and raised in Canada, are visually bilingual. I too learn the second language”(Kogawa pg. 67). It can be inferred that she shifts back and forth from the cultural languages and beliefs of Canada and Japan. However, as she reaches adulthood, she notices that she is still recognized as a “Jap” because of her eyes. Even though Japanese culture doesn’t seem to be a large part of her lifestyle or her identity when she is an adult. Naomi looks Japanese (biggest factor is her eyes), acts Japanese, and even eats Japanese food, but she states she doesn’t feel Japanese in her soul. She truly feels Canadian. The biggest factor is that she believes is her eyes that give away her Japanese heritage, in fact, Obasan even told Naomi while she was younger to look down while she walks, so other people don’t notice her eyes and associate her as a “Jap”.

Because of the extreme racism and internment, she faced as a child (and she faces all the way to her adulthood), she believes that her looks and Japanese background define who she is. In conclusion, Naomi’s conflicted identity has been shaped by childhood abuse of both a sexual and political nature.


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