This was the essay that I wrote for my Individual Oral Presentation (IOP) in IB English HL (might also be called Interactive Oral Presentation?). It was for the short story “Exiled” by Shizuye Takashima. It is approximately 2000 words. I read this in about 12-13 minutes, which left me a couple of minutes to answer questions from the teacher. Ideally, you want to leave some time at the end of your presentation so that your teacher can ask you questions to improve your mark. If you require some more information about the IOP, here’s a link that has some background information and a rubric.
I posted it on Intense Cogitation solely as an exemplar. Using ideas or words from this without acknowledgement is plagiarism. If you have any questions about this, please leave a comment.
The Canadian short story “Exiled” by Shizuye Takashima beautifully illustrates the tragic story of Japanese-Canadian internment during World War II. The protagonist, a female Japanese-Canadian child, describes this riveting tale through a series of journal entries from 1942. These journal entries are organized into three seasons: spring, summer and autumn. At the same time, the protagonist changes in terms of complexity. This causes one to wonder: what does the author achieve by linking character development to seasons? Takashima uses the seasons to reflect on the rise and fall of the complexity of the protagonist, which draws the reader into this captivating story. It also reinforces the theme that all good things come to an end. In terms of the protagonist, spring represents the birth of her identity, summer reflects the growth of her identity, and autumn highlights the slow decay of her identity. Essentially, each season illustrates a pivotal moment in the protagonist’s life.
Spring is a season of birth. It is the season where everything comes to life—plants and animals are born, and a temperate climate returns. This connotative meaning of spring makes it an excellent parallel for the birth of the protagonist’s identity.
The first journal entry from March 1942 exemplifies this idea; it documents the emergence of the protagonist. Although the child appears to be simple and flat at the beginning, Takashima does this to highlight the fact that there is room for progress. Near the beginning of the entry, she states, “Mass evacuation for the Japanese!” (44). This illustrates the simple mentality of the child, since she does not realize the severity of the situation. The internment process is referred to as an “evacuation” (44), which is extremely ironic. The child describes the forced relocation of Japanese-Canadians with a word that has a positive connotation, highlighting her simple understanding of the issue at hand. Her poor grasp of the world around here is exemplified through the disparity between her views on relocation and the views of others. She notes that “The older people are very frightened. Mother is so upset; so are all her friends. I, being only eleven, seem to be on the outside” (44). Evidently, the protagonist’s lack of depth manifests itself in her reaction to the situation at hand; she does not realize why everyone around her is acting this way. In addition, her use of simple diction in the passage above further reinforces her lack of complexity. Overall, the author portrays the protagonist as a rather clueless child, but this allows her to have room for growth.
Growth occurs in the following journal entry, much like the appearance of new leaves on a tree. The protagonist begins to develop a sense of self, which is a sign of sophistication. She watches her father board the train “at the train station” (44), and notices that her mother is silent. She reacts with firm determination: “I look at her. I see tears are slowly falling … I turn away, look around” (45). At last, the main character appears to be actively responding to events happening around her instead of merely listing the facts. In addition, she appears to be developing a sense of self. Takashima conveys this burgeoning self-identity with the repetition of the word “I” at the beginning of the sentences mentioned above. This is significant since she rarely referred to herself in the previous entry. Evidently, the protagonist is becoming increasingly complex, as demonstrated by her blossoming sense of self and hints of independent action. In essence, the author gives the reader some glimpses of the child’s complexity, which makes the story even more gripping.
Although both of these journal entries are relatively devoid of details of spring itself, the essential point still remains: the protagonist is becoming increasingly dynamic, which is consistent with the connotative meaning of spring. However, the lack of details about spring may be a literary feature. This lack of information about the setting likely reflects the protagonist’s flatness at the beginning of the story. Nevertheless, the protagonist begins as a simple, flat character, and later becomes a budding plant that is ready to develop into a truly complex character.
After spring comes summer, a season in which the hottest and longest days of the year occur. Since summer appears to be the season with the most intensity, it is possible that the epitome of character development may occur in this season for the protagonist.
The first journal entry in this season involves the destruction of the world around the protagonist, and her development regardless of that fact. She notes that David, her brother, is “taken away” (45). As he leaves, she wonders “what [David] thought as his time came to leave” (45). This clearly shows that the main character is able to comprehend what is happening around her, and that she is beginning to understand the plight of others, making her less egocentric relative to the previous section. Moreover, she mentions, “my house is empty. What we can sell, we do for very little money … We are not supposed to own anything! The government takes our home” (45). The repetition of “we” clearly shows that she is realizing her place in her family. Along with her reaction to David’s departure, it is evident that she now understands that the events happening in the world are having a direct effect on her and her family. The short, choppy sentences in the previous excerpt reinforce the description of the harsh environment around her, making her progress all the more remarkable. The destruction of the world around the child is intended by the author; it causes her to face difficult challenges, which forces her to adapt by being more knowledgeable and complex. Evidently, the author’s ironic use of a crumbling environment in a season of prosperity forces the protagonist to be more complex.
The author then proceeds to thrust her into an even more disturbing environment: the Exhibition grounds. Takashima’s powerful use of imagery highlights the protagonist’s growing complexity and limitations. The reader is immediately immersed in an atmosphere of despair; instead of “bright balloons and sugar candy”, the protagonist and her family are greeted with “tension and crying children… [along with] the unmistakable foul smell of cattle” (45). Japanese-Canadians are being detained on this site, which used to house animals. The sensory input overloads the protagonist, and she wants to “turn and run” (46). She likens the Exhibition grounds to “the hell-hole [her] Sunday school teacher spoke of with such earnestness” (46). Although the protagonist is becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is only so much that she can handle; Takashima uses this scene to illustrate the full extent of the child’s emotional capacity. At the same time, this shows how far she has progressed; in spring, she would not have acted in such a dynamic fashion. Afterwards, her encounter with Mrs. Abe makes her uncomfortable again. When “a curious head [poked] in from the drawn, frail curtain” (46), Mrs. Abe becomes extremely angry, and this rage accidentally manifests itself into a glare aimed at the child. As a result, she “[begins] to feel uncomfortable” (46) and leaves. Yet again, the growth of the protagonist is reflected in her reaction to uncomfortable situations; instead of being passive, like in spring, she now actively reacts to external stimuli and develops emotional responses. Takashima’s clever use of an unnerving environment clearly forces her to bring complex aspects of herself to the forefront.
Although both of these journal entries do not necessarily convey a sense of summer, there are still references to summer hidden in the background. The day of the Exhibition grounds visit is described as being a “very hot summer day” with a “strong, summer July sun” (45). This foreshadows the protagonist’s growth during that day. Like the sun, the child had an extremely strong day in terms of character development—her reaction to a strange environment was explored, and previously unknown aspects of her character were revealed, such as her emotional side. There is unmistakable growth in the development of the protagonist, and this growth is clearly mirrored by the fierceness of various aspects of summer, especially heat.
However, the protagonist begins to decline in complexity as autumn comes, since it is a season of slow, but gradual decay. The beginning of the end is foreshadowed: her family is waiting for “[their] notice to go to the camps.” (46). Likewise, a similar fate awaits the protagonist.
The first entry of autumn involves the protagonist’s escape from regular life. She joins her sister Yuki in watching a movie, which is an atypical event. The curfew mandates that “all Japanese have to be indoors by ten P.M.” (46), and she and Yuki have to hurry home when the movie finishes. As they sprint home, Yuki refers to her as “Shichan” (46). In Japanese, the suffix “chan” is a honourary term for females only. Thus, the protagonist is female. By revealing the gender of the character, Takashima removes a layer of complexity—no longer is the protagonist shrouded in a fog of uncertainty and mystique. After this riveting adventure, Shichan escapes reality yet again by retreating into isolation. She looks outside the window and notices that “one by one the lights in the city vanish” (47), which can be interpreted as a metaphor for her gradual decline into simplicity; lights are often associated with ideas or intelligence. In both these instances, Shichan relinquishes control, much like a leaf falling from a tree in fall. Clearly, her deterioration parallels the slow decay that happens in autumn.
By the last journal entry, titled “An end to waiting”, Shichan has come full circle in terms of character development—she is right back where she started. When she visited the Exhibition grounds, she saw firsthand how horrific the living conditions were at a Japanese internment camp. However, she is excited about going to an internment camp. She claims that it is due to her reunion with her father, since “families will be back together” (47) at the camp, and reassures herself with the thought of a scenic view from the camp. She feels “secretly happy for [she loves] the mountains” (47) and reassures herself that a lake will be a suitable replacement for “the roaring sea” (47). Her reaction to prison camps resembles her reaction to relocation in spring, suggesting that she has lost the complex identity that she has fostered. The sheer insanity of Takashima’s writing at this stage encourages the reader to read more, in order to rationalize what they have just read. This burst of optimism in the face of such an ominous fate is similar to the last gasp of air that a person takes before they die: only in this case, it is the complexity of the protagonist that is dying. Amazingly enough, this entire entry is still consistent with the season of fall: the protagonist’s complexity has decayed past the point of no return.
The idea of autumn is clearly conveyed in both of these entries, as the protagonist becomes increasingly simplistic until she comes full circle. However, autumn is nearly described as being similar to summer. According to Shichan, the “fresh autumn air feels nice” (47) and the “sun’s warm rays reach [them]“. Instead of descriptors that illustrate cold and decay, Shichan chooses to use words that illustrate warmth and happiness. This could be attributed to the fact that autumn is similar to summer in this story, since both seasons involved significant character development, albeit in different directions. Nonetheless, the general idea of fall is reflected in the character’s actions.
Although descriptions of the seasons themselves may not have reflected the character of Shichan very accurately, the idea behind each season still generally mirrored the character. The protagonist developed a rudimentary identity in spring, expanded that identity in summer, and lost that identity in fall. Essentially, the character came full circle, reinforcing the theme that all good things come to an end. This theme is reinforced by the destruction of the protagonist’s once-glorious environment and her eventual detainment at a Japanese internment camp. Overall, Takashima transforms a complex tale of Japanese internment into a simple and engaging story of a girl in British Columbia by using the seasons as a mirror of the characterization of the protagonist.