Joy Kogawa: "Obasan": A Self-conscious Story of History

Essay by szenkriUniversity, Master's January 2007

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My loved ones, rest in your world of stone.

Around you flows the underground stream.

How bright in the darkness the brooding light.

How gentle the colors of rain (Kogawa 295)

Kogawa's "Obasan" ends in this poetic farewell of to the silent and silenced past and an optimistic welcome towards the present. To reach this point, Naomi and the reader have been taken through a journey of the past, a journey that forces both her and the reader to change their views on Naomi's personal history as well as the Japanese Canadian history. The reconsidering of her childhood memories is done presented through a struggle with silence, language and communication. From the start, Kogawa has stressed that Obasan is a work of fiction, although it is full of history and people have been mentioning the book as something which has helped to re-write Canadian history. In this essay I will focus on the deliberate mentioning of the fact that Obasan is a piece of fiction and not history.

In this sense it becomes historiographic metafiction as named by Hutcheon when she says that "the reader is forced to acknowledge not only the inevitable textuality of our knowledge of the past, but also the value and the limitation of the inescapably discursive form of that knowledge." (Hutcheon 127) Naomi starts adjusting her childhood memories because of what she finds out through her Aunt Emily's documents, journals and letters. There is more to it than just accepting. She does not simply accept this package as a new reality however. Through this process of reading and re-creating her history, several things happen simultaneously. On the one hand Naomi becomes self-conscious about her own childhood memories and how they are changed by other "views" of the past, while on the other hand...