Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kenzabur e was born in a mountain village, and perhaps this gave him insight into the poverty, insularity, and inferiority that villagers experienced in prewar Japan. “The Catch” is earthy and vivid, capturing the simplicity as well as the coarseness of farm life. It captures the unreality of war as war is brought to the village in the unexpected arrival of an American airman.

Although the story takes place in the context of the unusual hardship of the war years, its theme of coming of age is universal. The young boy finds his childhood innocence and trust betrayed by the captive, as well as by his father and the other adults who rush to rescue him in a frenzy of hatred. Like a wild exotic animal, the “catch” is dangerous when he is cornered. The boy nearly loses his life in the violence, but the loss of his childhood is more important. There are echoes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) in this story: the spirit of adventure of the young boys, their unaffected wonder and curiosity, and their rejection of adult attitudes. Yet the difference is in the bitter ending; Jim does not die in Mark Twain’s story, as does the black captive in “The Catch.”

The story also shows how war leads people to ignore the basic humanity of all mankind. When the airman is first captured, the villagers are on guard, but the captive’s humanity eventually wins them over. As they become more familiar with their captive, they find it difficult to treat him as a dangerous animal and come to accept him as part of their community. When the outside world, the world of officials and wars, interferes in the form of the clerk, the fragile human link between the villagers and the captive is once again broken. They return in the end to hostility and fear.