First published as an article that took up an entire issue of The New Yorker and later printed as a nonfiction book, Hiroshima is a famous account on how the atomic bomb devastated the city. Hersey uses a distinct style of journalistic narrative by blending figurative language with facts and detailing the events through the eyes of the survivors, thereby removing himself from the story. This work is a good way of introducing students to creative nonfiction and an excellent example of a precursor to New Journalism, which adapts story-telling techniques of fiction to nonfiction reporting.

The subject matter of Hiroshima naturally lends itself to a broader history lesson on World War II and the events that led up to the use of nuclear weapons and the US government's reasoning for doing so. It is also important to talk about how most initial reporting of the atomic bombing focused on the physical destruction caused by the blast and how scientifically impressive the nuclear weapons were. In contrast, Hersey took a more personal approach and recounted the human cost of the bombing. This difference in focus is a good way to start a conversation on how the public opinions regarding nuclear weapons have changed and why atomic bombs have never been used after World War II.

Content Warning

Hiroshima contains descriptions of trauma and carnage.

Summary

Hiroshima, a nonfiction work, chronicles the lives of six survivors of the atomic bomb, which was dropped on the morning of August 6, 1946. Hersey describes these people's experiences the morning just before the bombing, the time of the actual nuclear explosion, the immediate aftermath as they tried to reach shelter, and the following weeks as they face radiation sickness and begin to rebuild. In 1985, Hersey published an additional chapter that follows the lives of the six survivors forty years after the drop of the bomb.

Objectives for Teaching Hiroshima

  • Discuss the extent to which the six survivors credit providence for their survival.
  • Cite incidents from the book to illustrate the destructive power of the atomic bomb to destroy lives and property.
  • Discuss the attitude of the Japanese people toward World War II and the Emperor's influence.
  • Identify the tone of the story and possible reasons why Hersey wrote it in this way.
  • Discuss the ethics of the US government's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
  • Consider how the world's attitude toward nuclear weapons has changed since this story was published in 1946.
  • Examine how Hersey's writing differs from traditional journalism.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Figurative Language
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Mood
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Tone

Themes and Motifs

  • Community Survival — Lacking a unified national response to the bombing of Hiroshima, the community of survivors bands together to help each other survive.
  • Memory — The story is told through survivors remembering and reconstructing their experiences. It also examines how people deal with traumatic memories.
  • War —  Hersey's account shows how civilians suffer in war and raises serious questions regarding the ethics of total warfare.

Related Works

Theme of Community Survival

 

Theme of Memory

 

Theme of War

Key Facts

  • Length: 152 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1190
  • Publication Date: 1946
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Awards

  • Adjudged the finest piece of American journalism of the 20th century by a panel associated with New York University's journalism department.

Movies

There is no adaptation of Hersey's book; however, a 2005 docudrama called Hiroshima: BBC History of World War II recounts the bombing through eyewitness interviews and examines the repercussions.

Your students will love:

  • The unique point of view
  • Encountering a more entertaining style of nonfiction writing

Students may have problems with:

  • The detached, objective tone
  • Graphic descriptions of injuries

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