Q: Confession: Who is speaking? Is the speech ironic? Why has Otsuka chosen to end the novel this way? What does this imply about our ability to separate out the ‘enemy’, the ‘other’, in our midst?
In the chapter titled “Confession” the speaker admits to the reader the truths of the story. This person talks about how the manner in which the police gathered and questioned them was true. This person confesses all the real life truths the Japanese went through whether it was in the camps or back at their home life. They confess their thoughts and feelings on the matter.
The father is the speaker in the duration of the confession. He is the spokesperson for all the Japanese during this time and saying their inner most sacred thoughts and feelings since most didn’t have the voice to do so themselves. It is in the confession after some time spent with the police that he just breaks down and tells the police what they want to hear. “I’m sorry. There. That’s it. I’ve said it. Now can I go?”(143). Otsuka included this part because it has two deeper meanings. The first being that it was said in a sarcastic manner as if saying ‘well, sorry for being who I am. I can just change my looks and culture with the snap of my fingers because you don’t like what I look like.’ The father was not apologizing for the things that occurred or for being different. He was apologizing because of their closed mindedness. He feels sad for them because they will never understand that what they perceive to be right is truly wrong. They let their emotions and preconceived notions cloud their judgment of right and wrong. They have incriminated an entire race and culture for something that happened during war. These are American citizens that they have shipped off to some camp to keep them ‘safe.’ Not war criminals or spies but fellow American citizens. This simple statement speaks volumes to the father’s state of mind. He holds so much sadness and anger, but knows nothing will change and that is the truly sad part about it all.
In the confession it continues even further on with the father saying, “So go ahead lock me up. Take my children. Take my wife” (142). The father is proving a point in this moment. Usually when a parent’s child is in danger they will fight for their child to stay and make an exchange but not in this case. The father has already been stripped bare of his culture, heritage, and home by the American government. That has taken away his supposed freedom and rights. Has desecrated his home and made him public enemy number one, so why not finish the job off by taking his family away from him too. He feels lost and like he has nothing left to give or live for. All the things that made him, he has been taken away quite forcefully, and then he’s being told to act more American. He is told to throw away the emperor and do things the American way. To live an American life but be invisible to the Americans. Otsuka is showing how broken and fragile an entire culture has left because of the actions of the American government and citizens.
In the novel, When The Emperor Was Divine, Otsuka chose to end the story with the confession to show the seriousness of the situation. An entire race was punished, humiliated, and made a mockery of because of the fears of ignorant people. Unfortunately, this is not the first time in American history something like internment camps that the Japanese were forced to has happened. For example the Red Scare, America was going wild with fear. People were charged with espionage or for being Communist sympathizers and sent away. Otsuka wanted to show the other side the story to this dark time in the American history. You usually only hear one side to the story and when you do you hear only the good parts, the sweetened version of the story and not the side from the people affected by others actions. She wanted to show how there really are no lines between ‘other’ and ‘enemy.’
The lines become blurred somewhere along the way. People do not know when or how but they just get associated with the enemy. For instance when 9/11 happened, people were quick to judge and assume every Muslim had something to do with that terrorist attack. When really the ones being attacked were the Muslims not associated with the terrorist group. They had nothing to with the group but were bunched with them because of the same religion they shared. Like when the father says, “Who am I? You know who I am. Or you think you do” (142). You don’t know a person until you get to know them and their beliefs. You can’t just bunch them together to make things easier because then you are only closing yourself off to the world where there is no possibility of hope for generations to come.