Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima
The story is about Kiwi’s alter ego Gene’s life before the atomic bomb was dropped on his hometown of Hiroshima. Gene and his family are poor civilians living in Hiroshima who are under the constant burden of the town officials, the citizens of the town, and the hunger that plagues all of them. When Gene’s father is accused of being a traitor to the Japanese government life for them gets even tougher.
When the bomb drops at the end of the story all that are left is Gene, his mother, and his newly born baby sister. Gene has to face the harsh realities of war at a very young age and has to become the man his father wanted him to be. Barefoot Gene is written as a first hand account about what civilian life was like for the people of Japan during World War II. Also there are many themes in this book including power, and loyalty. Each one is shown by either the Japanese Government or by Genes own family.
Also symbolism plays a big part in this story like the name Kiwi picked for himself, the wheat that Gene ND his family grow, and the sun that appears in the book many times. When people study war and in this case World War II they always look at the battles and the military. They never really look at what happens to the everyday citizens on both the Axis and Allies side. Barefoot Gene is a good example of a first hand account of a normal citizens life during World War II. Gene is a young boy in this book and his family is on the poorer end of society during this time.
The Japanese army is very large and is taking away all of the metal, wool, and food from their own citizens. This makes life very tough for the Anamosa family. This is shown by Gene telling his brother, “Wow soldiers lucky, they get to eat rice. I wand grow up quick and be a soldier too! All we get everyday is watery gruel… “2 During the whole story the family is barely making it by which shows especially in Gene’s younger brother Shine when he is being told that they are not getting food for the night.
Another thing that makes it even tougher for Gene’s family to get by is when his father is accused of being a traitor. 3 The whole town turns on them and it makes it hard for he family to get food and sell the goods that they make. This shows especially when Gene’s mother goes to town to buy rice for her family. The shop keeper’s wife is obliged to help but her husband is not, saying, ” They’re traitors. The neighborhood chairman said not to deal with them. A-but… Fool! If we have anything to do with them, the whole town will turn against us too. 4 The shopkeeper does not want to deal with Gene’s mother because if he does so the entire town will not want to buy from him, making it tougher for him to make it by. To see war through the eyes of a villain especially in this books shows the reader that if times are tough out of war, times can be really tough if your country is in war. Barefoot Gene has a couple different themes in it that show up many times in the story. The first big theme in the story is power. In the book there are many instances and people that show power.
First off is Gene’s father’s power he shows over the family. He shows this power by telling them what they need to do or even by beating his children for doing something wrong. An example of this is when Gene’s brother flees the countryside and comes back home where he is greeted by a beating from is father and is told that he has to go back so he does not get hurt. 5 Another show of power is the Japanese officials and police officers. They walk around the town thinking they are higher than everybody else and making them know it.
A great example of this is when Gene’s family is picking up some sweet potatoes that they traded some goods for. A police officer stops them and forcibly takes them away. It starts off with the police officer saying, “Where did you get these sweet potatoes from? A friend of ours gave them to us. Liar! You got them on the black market didn’t you? 6 This confrontation between Gene’s family and the police officer shows the power the officer has over Just regular civilians. Another big theme inside of the story is the idea of loyalty.
There is two ways this is shown, by Gene’s older brother Koki joining the war effort to help rid his family from being called traitors, and by the loyalty of Gene and Shine for helping their mother when she is sick. First off the big reason Koki Joins the Naval air corps is to rid his family from being called traitors. He knows that his family is poor and are not getting any food because everyone in town goes not want to do business with traitors. He wants his family to be able to eat so he thinks by Joining the Navy it will make the town not call them traitors anymore.
He says, mill’s see! I’ll come back covered with medals, so you can all walk around town with your heads high! “7 He knows his father is against the war but he does not want his family to suffer anymore, so by this it shows that he is at least staying loyal to his family by Joining the war Just to make them better off. Gene and his younger brother Shine show their loyalty to the family when their mother falls sick. She is not getting enough food so they sneak out and start to beg on the street even though their father does not like it.
They know that it is wrong but they also know that their mother has to eat to get better. In the end their dad really does not get mad at them because he knows that they were doing something good for the family. Their mother shows her gratitude by saying, “Sob… Shine, Gene, thank you so much. I’ll get well now, for sure… “8 Symbolism also plays a big part in the story with the author’s choice of using the name Gene as his own alter ego, the wheat that Gene’s family tries to grow, and the sun hat shows up on almost every page of the story.
Kiwi states in the introduction of Barefoot Gene why he picked that name for himself. He says, ” Gene has several meanings in Japanese. It can mean “root” or “origin” of something, but also “elemental” in the sense of an atomic element, as well as a “source” of vitality and happiness. “9 So the reason why Kiwi picked that name was because he wanted to show that Gene was the main focus of the story and that he brought happiness to his family through the tough times that they endured together.
The name Gene homebodies that even though someone could be going through hard times they could always go back to their roots and find happiness with themselves and their family. Another great symbol in the book is the wheat that Gene and his father grow throughout the story. Again in the introduction Kiwi explains why he put wheat in his story. He says, ” Wheat appears as a symbol of strength and courage. Wheat pushes its shots up through the winter frost, only to be trampled again and again. But the trampled wheat sends strong roots into the earth and grows straight and tall.
And on ay the wheat bears fruit. “10 The wheat symbolizes Gene’s family in the story, they are trampled down again and again by citizens of the town or by police officers, but they always get back up and stand strong against them. Even at the end of the book when all that’s left is Gene, his mother, and baby sister, Gene will rise up from the ashes of the town and stand strong for himself and for his family. The last great symbol in the book is that of the sun. The sun is almost on every page and has a couple different meanings.
First off the sun is on the Japanese flag and the Japanese consider homeless to be the first to see the sun rise in the world. The sun also is foreshadowing the death to come. In the beginning of the story the sun is shown a lot so the reader can draw the conclusion that the sun is what gives these people energy and life, it is how these people can go about with their day. When the bomb drops the sun is no where to be seen, it completely disappears from the sky and from the pages of the book to show that there is no more energy and life in Hiroshima. The sky is black from all of the smoke and residue from the bomb.
On the last page of the kook Gene raises his baby sister to the sky but all that is there to greet her is fire and black smoke. Al This foreshadows that the baby will die soon because she will not get the proper energy and substances that the sun brings to the town. Barefoot Gene is written to show how Kiwi Mackinaw feels about war and the use of nuclear bombs. He wants the world to live together and in peace and so he writes this book to show what happens to normal people during the time of war. This book was a great book to read because it really captures the harsh realities of war and hat it can do to the civilians of a country.
In America we are used to reading about war but it never effects us because it is never fought on our own soil. Stories like Barefoot Gene offer a first hand account to what war can do to a country and what it can do to a family as well. His story is a personal account that hopefully moves people into wanting to stay at peace with one another and never let what happened to Hiroshima and Okinawa ever happen again.