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Research paper topic: Thousand Cranes By Yasunari Kawabata - 1659 words
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"Thousand Cranes" by Yasunari Kawabata ILLUSTRATE THE ROLE WHICH MRS OTA AND HER DAUGHTER FUMIKO PLAY IN BRINGING ABOUT THE REFORMATION OF KIKUJI'S CHARACTER TO COME TO TERMS WITH HIS PAST. IN WHAT WAYS (IF ANY) DOES THIS HELP HIM BECOME A BETTER PERSON? Kawabata's "Thousand Cranes" is a novel that puts little emphasis on story lines, placing more value on emotions, reflections, symbolism and such. The rather crude (at first sight) plot of this complicated piece of Japanese literature is concentrated on a tangled web of relationships of the past, riddled with jealousy, insecurity and deep mistrust. Kikuji Mitani, the main character, has grown up watching many of these triangular and adulterous ties all unfold before his eyes - his father taking the star role. As a result of this, even now, as a young working man the ghosts of the past come to haunt him, threatening to take over his life and make him a replication of his father even though he is now dead.
The center of this 'haunting' is in something he witnessed as a boy of eight or nine - Chikako's birthmark. This disgusting image has a surprisingly intense effect on Kikuji, in fact so deep- "He could sometimes imagine even that his own destinies were enmeshed in it." This is the state of Kikuji at the start of the book, an obsessive, even neurotic, driven character completely confused and angered by life, trying to push the past as far away as possible. His first meeting with Mrs. Ota is a forced one, a meeting he would rather have avoided. He had wanted to meet the Inamura girl - later identified as "the girl of the thousand cranes" - who is "beautiful" and more importantly "pure" in his eyes- " .. clean against the rankling histories of middle-aged women" in sharp contrast to the likes of Mrs.
Ota, whose very presence is impure- "It seemed wrong to meet the girl .. here before Mrs. Ota." The thought of seeing Fumiko for the first time is even less appealing- " .. he was even more repelled at the thought of meeting the daughter today." However his first impressions after four years of Mrs. Ota are- "She seemed wholly warm, tender, overcome by pleasure at such an unexpected meeting." But this is quickly ruined by his malicious thought- "One can only conclude she was wholly unaware of her place in the assembly" and in society (?).
From repulsion for both Mrs. Ota and Fumiko, Kikuji reserves his disgust only for Mrs. Ota, leaving sympathy for Fumiko- "Was the woman foolish, or shameless? He was overcome with pity for the daughter .. " Fumiko is still an unknown, with nothing revealed about her personality or any past history, but Kikuji does notice as Mrs. Ota is leaving that- "There was a look of appeal in the girl's eyes." We can conclude from here that Kikuji is very perceptive, noticing details that others may not take note of, although her "appeal" can be understood in many different ways, maybe an appeal for forgiveness, or an appeal to stay away from her mother.
But the point being made here is that Kikuji is observing maybe a little too much about the two women if he has such a deep hatred for them. He should rather be aloof and uninterested in them. There are many other instances throughout the book where he scrutinizes like this, Fumiko and her mother both being characterized by their "long, white neck(s)/throat(s)." His keen perception of such detail could be used to guess at another aspect of his personality- that he is to some extent like an artist. However Kikuji's newfound willingness to deal with his history is displayed when he purposely walks to Mrs. Ota despite his aversion for her- "Nevertheless, he walked toward the gate." This is a very impulsive and perhaps dangerous (mentally harmful) decision for Kikuji to make, quite rash, because anything can happen.
He seems to have made it quite clear in the pages before that at the moment he believes that his only salvation from his father's curse (obviously he feels it is a curse) is to keep away from its living components- Mrs. Ota, Chikako and perhaps Fumiko. Now he is not even stopping to think what this new contradictory action will do to his years of resolve, to his determination to bury his past. He is willing to open a new can of worms with no regard for the consequences. Mrs. Ota has a new revelation for Kikuji when she tells him- "Your father was very good to her (Fumiko) ..
she did her very best for him." This comes as a surprise for him as he sees his father in a new light, as a kinder caring person, not simply the man who was double-crossing his mother. Fumiko too is different from what he perceived her as- she tried so hard to make a man who is almost her stepfather happy. Maybe this is the start of his end to avoiding anything to do with his father and his past. Immediately after Kikuji and Mrs. Ota's first intimate encounter (which was completely unexpected because of his obvious distaste of her at the start) he is surprisingly happy- "Kikuji, the bachelor, usually felt soiled after such encounters; but now, when the sense of defilement should have been keenest, he was conscious only of warm repose." Here, with Mrs.
Ota, his father's lover, he has done exactly what his father did, and does not feel a "sense of defilement" at all! He seems to have acknowledged his past at this moment but has he become any better as a person? He is still obsessive and vindictive, mentioning Chikako's birthmark again- "Something had risen inside him to say it. Something that wanted to rise .. and injure the woman." Mrs. Ota does not seem to have done much to help his personality so far, though she has made some definite progress which can be shown in the following quotation where, for the first time, he actually appreciates her- "Mrs. Ota's warmth came over him like warm water.
She had gently surrendered everything .. he had felt secure." It could be possible that he is seeking the love that a mother could give him, but in this context, to regard Mrs. Ota as a mother figure, Kikuji would be thinking along the lines of incest, giving the story an edge of extreme perversion; even more than the disgust that was already created in my mind at their actions considering their relationship through Kikuji's father. Although Kikuji is making advancements toward a better personality and acceptance, his method of doing so is, to me, anything but natural. At the start of the novel, I was given the impression that Kikuji was unstable and insecure in every way. Now, because of Mrs. Ota, he "had felt secure." His symbolism of Mrs. Ota as "warm water" - later to be referred to as a "wave" which "washed over him" - is very interesting.
"Warm water" is usually associated with relaxation i.e. it has a very soothing effect on the mind of a person. To Kikuji, Mrs. Ota is this source of comfort. A very different perspective from his introductory character! Yet then he did not know her, Chikako was his only source of information about her, and most likely to some extent influenced his perception of her. But with his new knowledge of Mrs.
Ota, he appears to feel that because of her, he can now regard his father and his past in a much more positive way, even though, ironically, she was one of the main reasons he became disillusioned with it to begin with. It is only after Fumiko's visit that this view (if he ever had it, even for a short while) alters drastically. Fumiko does make significantly great improvements to Kikuji's character although this only becomes apparent later on. One of the early signs is during her visit to him two weeks after his first meeting with Mrs. Ota, when he is, I believe, for the first time sensitive to someone else's feelings other than his mother and himself. On the subject of his new relationship with Mrs. Ota, he thinks- "How deeply they must have wounded and shamed her (Fumiko)!" This seems to be his first display of humility and/or embarrassment for his own actions so far.
But the fact that Mrs. Ota is still an obstacle to his peace is made known as he contemplates "how good it would be to talk freely of his father and take no account of Mrs. Ota." It is also made clear though, that Kikuji now secretly believes and accepts his own partial responsibility. Therefore when "the image of the girl with the thousand-crane kerchief came to him" it appears that he has included himself in the impurity that is so much in contrast to her uncontaminated beauty and innocence. A new hint of his still persisting opposition to confront and accept his history is revealed in the form of his unopened tea cottage, which has almost been elevated to the position of a shrine- "Kikuji had not used the tea cottage since his father's death .. it had been closed since his mother's death." He appears to be afraid to disturb anything from the cottage that contains so many memories from his past, and maybe the basis of this fear is that those memories will fuse with his and become him. His disposition towards Chikako has not changed the slightest from the start of the book and her insistence over the phone on opening the cottage is welcomed with the following thought: "The venomous persistence came at him over the phone" as if she is some sort of snake that ejects her "poison" (as it is later referred to) over him. Even to the end of the novel this extreme hatred is the one thing Kikuji constant ...
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