Wheat as Strength — Barefoot Gen

Barefoot Gen is the semi-autobiographical manga that tells the story of Gen, a young boy from Hiroshima who lives through the aftermath of the atomic bomb, based off of the author’s lived experience as a real-life survivor of the atomic bomb. In the books, the plant Wheat is often used as a metaphor for persistence and strength. The metaphor is established by Gen’s father who tended a small crop of wheat in a small plot that the family had during the war as a small intake of additional food.

Gen’s father imparts the wisdom to Gen to “Be like wheat”, that is, grow strong and tall, grow back when you are trampled over, grow your roots even in the cold of winter so that you are that much stronger when spring and summer arrive.

In addition to the very direct allegory for surviving the apocalypse the Barefoot Gen as a whole provides, given that it is a story rooted in a real-life apocalypse, the discussion of wheat has particular relevance to our exploration of survival through the apocalypse. My overall idea in eschatology, and deriving knowledge from stories of apocalyptical survival is that our stance or mindset is where we can give ourselves strength. A stance of growing strong like wheat, by remembering his father’s wisdom, is how Gen accesses his own resilience. I would further argue that growing strong like wheat, and growing back when we are hurt, is one way that anyone might be able to access their own strength for survival.

This is not meant to be a long essay. I hope the big idea is conveyed. I think a very important part of understanding this metaphor is reading the manga or watching an adaptation of it, in order to hear the words in context and experience the depth of strength that the words provide given the depth of destruction that Gen, and arguably the author, lived through.