The Theme of Forgiveness in “A Gift from My Grandparents” by Mark Sakamoto
It is a violent world we live in, but Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness: “A Gift From My Grandparents” reminds one that things do change. Through the result of colonial exploitation of the Japanese-Canadian and Canadian POWs in the Second World War, this story helps shape the support of one’s cultural identity for Mitsue and Ralph to develop the theme of forgiveness within the novel.
During the Second World War, the Canadian government interned all Japanese-Canadians, many being Canadian Citizens, and were evacuated 100 miles off of the coast. Sakamoto talks about how politicians continue to howl for the removal of the Japanese from the province of British Columbia. The author’s maternal grandmother, Mitsu Sakamoto, was a young girl living in a community with other Japanese families in British Columbia. When Pearl Harbor came, it gave the politicians the opportunity they wanted. The Japanese were given the notice to abandon their houses, pack what goods they can fit in a wooden box, and head by train for the farmlands of southern Alberta. There they spend the war working in the fields for meager wages. It was a racist policy, driven by economics racism. Tens of thousands of Japanese-Canadians were forced to carry identification cards and were eventually sent to internment camps in the prairies to await evacuation. Many injuries came in this hard labour, Mitsue’s mother in law was close to death, and when visiting the doctor, he “didn’t even touch her, just wrote something on his prescription pad (…) and was out the door” (142).
Another example the author focused on symbolism through the silence of the bystanders, when Susanne, Mitsu Sakamoto’s sister, has to leave school because of the racial relocation. The teacher announces it the class, and Susanne says “Why were they silent? Why didn’t anyone say something? Their silence left her with an uneasy sadness”. Canada is not an innocent bystander or righteous do-gooder but actively complicit in the oppression of its citizens. Even through this injustice, Mitsue’s parents kept a strong heart, telling Mitsue “we have each other. They can’t burn that down”.
At that time of this chaos, Canada was eager to prove itself, and so in 1941, the government sent 2,000 Canadian soldiers to Hong Kong. Ralph Mclean, the author’s maternal grandfather, was captured in Hong Kong and spent five years living under brutal, near-death conditions as a POW in Japan. The author renders with horrifying and fulsome detail life in the prison camp, from the innumerable bed bugs to the dangerous latrine (Slip and fall in and you’re done for). The food is unspeakable. “Eat what you can,” a fellow prisoners counsels. Others aren’t sure when it comes to a more than usually unsavoury meal. “No one knew if they were better off eating it or leaving it” Sakamoto writes. After less than a year MacLean loses half his weight and lost many of his friends. When the US army arrives to save everyone, they dropped down care packages, his package containing the Bible, he recites a quote, mark 11:45 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins”. This allows Ralph to forgive those that wronged him during the war and live on as a proud Canadian. T
he Second World War took everything from both sides of Sakamoto’s family; it stripped all of them bare. However, one thing that kept them alive was their dignity. Two families, both victims of injustice, both with reasons to hate each other, but united by marriage. Ralph and Mitsue, in particular, take a shine to each other. “They had both discarded the past,” Sakamoto writes, “keeping only what they needed, leaving the rest behind. They did not compare hardships or measure injustices. They knew there was no merit to that”. Sakamoto takes the act of forgiveness by his grandparents as a gift for himself, amazed that they “bore witness to the worst in humanity (…) Yet they managed to illuminate the finest in humanity. However, did they manage that? Forgiveness is moving on. It is a daily act that looks forward. Forgiveness smiles”.
The author helps balance the novel with Ralph and Mitsu’s similar character types; they were both caring and supportive towards others. Ralph helps his comrades that are afraid of war and even acts as a commander. An example is when they are sailing to Japan on the enemies’ ship, and calms the man suffering from claustrophobia so that he does not catch any attention. Phrases like “Steady. You’re going to be okay. Don’t panic (…) Stay with me” and “Easy, boys. Let’s not lose our heads now” help to portray his character as supportive. Likewise, Mitsu tires to fit into society’s ideals, not continuing in the education she wants because she knows she will be less likely to marry, not wanting to disappoint her family. She is also very hard working, and she even moves away from her family so she can support her husband. Helping them with their chores and helping their guests too. She portrays a mother like character and Ralph represents the father like character, both able to accept each other even through their differences.
Forgiveness is a personal journey, but it also reminds us not to forget. As a Canadian the stories shape us more, they would be completely excused if they let the hardship harden their hearts. Ralph and Mitsue, a Japanese-Canadian and Canadian POW in the Second World War, went through tremendous colonial exploitation and effects of global inequalities to develop the theme of forgiveness in the novel. Canada is a place where the soil is fertile for forgiveness, and the soil is fertile for human dignity.
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It is a violent world we live in, but Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness: “A Gift From My Grandparents” reminds one that things do change. Through the result of colonial exploitation of […]