College of Arts and Sciences


English and Environmental Studies

Faculty Mentor

Nalini Iyer, PhD

Faculty Editor

June Johnson Bube, PhD

Student Editor

Alia Fukumoto


The relocation and internment of US residents of Japanese heritage during World War II has been well documented, both historically and in literature. The critical examination of internment narratives has, however, largely failed to consider the highly consequential role of the natural environment in the internment experience and subsequent internment literature. In this paper, I examine Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine, in conjunction with historical sources, through an ecocritical and environmental justice lens. In doing so, I reveal that the natural environment played a dual, and often contradictory, role in the internment experience. On the one hand, nature was as a source of hardship for interned people, as the harsh, alien environments of the camps were a source of physical and emotional pain, and thus acted as one of many tools of oppression. On the other hand, nature offered spaces of defiance and sanctuary, and thus provided a means to actualize and process the traumatic experience of internment. Through this analysis, I not only highlight the importance of the natural world in Otsuka’s text, but also stress the importance of further ecocritical examinations of internment narratives.