Contrasting Imagery in Tamiki Hara’s “Summer Flowers”: Calamity and Beauty

Tamiki Hara’s “world of surrealistic paintings” is one that is embroiled in a stark contrast between destruction and beauty, with calamity rising victorious in all instances. The imagery is undeniably very distinct, from gruesome to some small moments of beauty, yet it complements itself to develop a sense of terribleness, and more importantly havoc and irreparable damage. This effect causes distinct feelings of empathy to arise in the reader, by conveying that there is no room left for beauty in the world of the short story. These contrasts of imagery, between calamity and beauty, help convey and support the overall theme of devastation, hopelessness, desperation and malignant sadness that seem to have spread like a cancer in “Summer Flowers”. This is done by creating a sense there is no longer a boundary between joy and agony as suffering has taken over all aspects of existence, through the creation of illusion, and by the canceling of beautiful symbolism.

Hara describes the grim scene of his destroyed city as a “silvery emptiness, stretching out under the hot sun”. This link between utter calamity, and warm sunshine is a patterned occurrence in “Summer Flowers”, that is set to invoke a sense of ill ­differentiation between the actual sun and the destructive flash from the atomic bomb. In other words, the grave and desperate situation the people had found themselves in had led them to find the, otherwise calming, sun as painful and pernicious, as it reminds them of the atomic bomb’s “brilliant flash that seemed to leave the marks of its claws everywhere”. What Hara sought to achieve through this is to imply that the sheer negativity of the situation had surpassed all possibility of hope. Although the “sun was pouring down” it was not well received by the burn victims, and it seemed to come specifically after a period of greater adversity, such as the factory fire. Moreover, this is meant to invoke an emotional response of empathy in the reader, making the contrast as clear as possible where death seemed to be the only option, as nothing, even “the wan light”, could bring them some sort of comfort. This is also achieved through the rather grim mood that is produced through this contrast. For instance, Hara describes the despicable situation of some individuals and continues to say that “their shadows fell on the water”, implying that they were no more but the elements of the past, in front of the surviving sun. This figurative language, although beautiful in its prose, seems to be devoid of a sentimental core from Hara. For example, when in context much of this imagery lacks emotional roots, but rather is expressed in a tone that itself expressed desperation and “emotionlessness”(Sic) caused by pure adversity. The best example of this contrast is seen when Hara is affected by a girl’s “bloodcurdling death-cry” but still the “light was full”. The figurative nature of this language seems to imply a certain clarity, that in the world Hara found himself him there were no distinctions between simple good and bad. The sunlight, might as well have been the atomic bomb flash, as survival become the sole motivator of Hara and the people at Hiroshima. Interestingly, the pattern of sunshine is found daily, and as seen was expressed after a dreadful situation. Yet as soon as it come into view, Hara provides awful descriptions of heavily “monstrous people”, as he called it. It would not be bold to suggest that Hara seems to be implying that with every new day, after the atomic bomb, the sunrise reminded him and the people of the flash that had changed their lives so drastically. Overall, this contrast between destruction and sunshine cannot be confused with hope, but rather desperation.

Another example of antipodal and contrasting imagery can be found towards the end of the short story, when the main character and his family begin to leave the destroyed city in a wagon. Hara suggests that things were “finally green, liberated from the color of calamity”. In fact, he goes as far to say that a dragonfly “engraved itself on [his] eyes”. This brief moment of beauty is quickly interrupted by descriptions of a woman whose arm was infested with maggots, and later died in pain. The sheer contrast between these two images are truly on opposite sides of the spectrum. Similar to the images of sunshine, this contrast is meant to invoke the inescapable nature of the catastrophe that engulfed Hiroshima. Moreover, the sudden change of moods is ultimately meant to shock the reader into forced emotional empathy. What is meant by this is that the drop from the beauty of nature to the raggedness of desolate death is the very motif of this contrast. The reason for this is because it is meant to be similar to the effects of the atomic bomb. For example, in one instance life is prosperous and in literally a flash, all is destroyed. Moreover, after the descriptions of nature, Hara describes the effects of radiation sickness on his brother, and his inability to escape its grasp. It is without a doubt that the pure descriptive nature of this imagery creates a bizarre clarity. However, this clarity is put into question, as the dragonfly that catches the main character’s eye can be considered as a symbol of power and joy , as it did in old Japanese traditions. In fact, the dragonfly was carved on many Japanese Samurai swords and arrow quivers. Hara did this to show that the sight of natural beauty might hold some hope, yet the reality was, in fact, the devastation and the maggots that infested the woman’s arm. Therefore, in the small instance of hope that was created by the setting, it all disappeared most certainly when the main character realized the irregularity of the picture. It is for this reason why the “long and monotonous road” followed, as it gave Hara a chance to leave his short fantastic moment, back into reality. All in all, these particular images are meant to imply that the atomic bomb was an inescapable reality, that changed life drastically.

The final contrasting imagery that is relevant, is the “cherry tree with only a few leaves”, where two girls lay with “faces burned black and thin backs exposed to the sun”. This mere simplistic description conveys a sense of irony, and even more morbid, a defined and concrete hopelessness, depredation and aguish. In Japanese culture a cherry tree is known to be the symbol of life and beauty due to its blossoming in the spring time. However in this situation it had lost all of its leaves implying a degradation of life and even beauty. Moreover, the two young school girls who lay under it “exposed to the hot sun” and who were calling out for water further perpetuated the heartache of this scene. In this case, however, the beauty of the tree seems to be gone, rather diminished in its strength, to imply that even the contrast has become irrelevant to convey the depreciation of beauty and life. The mood created out of this is one of sickening nature specifically because of the children occupying the vicinity of what used to be ‘hope’, under the cherry tree. The innocence of both children and the cherry tree complement each other, more so because of the abrasive physical condition of both. However, in this similarity the contrast remains in the fact that the cherry used to be a symbol, and could still be as a few leaves remained, while the children were in fact dying. In the end there is no longer a barrier between the two, as they have both faded into one malignant existence of pain. Lastly, the symbol of the cherry tree in the Meiji era became heavily associated with fallen soldiers, which makes this scene even more gruesome, as the victims are not military men, but children.

In all three instances of the images discussed there seems to be a prevalent blurring of beauty and calamity, through the use of a combination of descriptive and figurative language, that appeals primarily to the visual senses. The reason for this is because, the visual elements are the best form of providing emotional stimulation in this case, primarily because the empathetic abilities needed to understand the situation in “Summer Flowers” is beyond the comprehension of the normal reader. All throughout his descriptions Hara did not describe the senses of smell, taste, or sound, but only stuck to the visual and touch. It is perhaps for this reason that imagery in this work seems so pronounced from start to finish.

Essentially, Hara has made the distinction between beauty and destruction, life and death irrelevant in “Summer Flowers”. This can be seen by the sunshine that became the same as the flash of the atomic bomb, while the green pastures and dragonfly were illusions rather than reality, and finally the cherry tree lost its meaningful symbolism as two, heavily burnt, children lay dying beneath it. In the end, the point of these images are to imply that in the devastation of the atomic bomb, there was no place for beauty, not even hope, as everyone around the main character was dying. There was nothing to stop the malignant sadness from spreading not only in the physical realm but also the minds and souls of people.

By: Milad Doroudian



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