Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this fable, the fate of the boy illustrates the mysterious power of nature to save or destroy human life. This young artist has devoted himself to cats, and in drawing them, he wholeheartedly worships the genius, or spirit, of cats within himself. This natural genius guides him on his path to becoming a famous artist. First it sends him from his obscure temple home in the unknown village, and later it saves his life when a ravenous spirit, the enormous rat-goblin, seeks to attack and destroy him. The soldiers who earlier entered the temple at night to slay the goblin and did not survive the attempt illustrate the danger of facing life’s difficulties without a powerful natural ally, such as the cat genius of the young boy, to protect and fight for oneself.

This traditional Japanese fable expresses themes central to the ancient Shinto religion of Japan. “The Way of the Gods,” Shinto is a nature-based system of beliefs, according to which the world is guided by nature gods, composed of the powers of nature, and the enduring spirits of dead ancestors, who acquire supernatural powers after death. These ghosts continue to exist with supernatural power in the world, influencing the lives of their descendants and other nearby humans. Together, these spiritual forces influence natural events, such as rain, tides, harvest, birth, and death, for evil or good.

The Shinto gods and spirits protect and care for those humans who pay homage to their...

(The entire section is 494 words.)