Study Guide

The Face of Another

by Kobo Abe

The Face of Another Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The theme of alienation and lost identity, so common to Abe’s work, is the focus of his novel The Face of Another. In a laboratory accident, a chemist sustains facial disfigurement so severe that he never appears, even at home, without bandages. In time, because of his lack of communication with his wife, he decides to get a lifelike mask in an effort to recover what he believes is his lost identity. A plastic surgeon agrees to make a mask, but he reminds the chemist that the mask, however perfect technically, will impose a new personality on him.

The novel contains numerous ironies. For example, it is precisely because of the unfortunate disfigurement, causing the chemist to wear a mask, that he is able to discover that one’s face is not, in fact, one’s real identity. The normal face, in fact, is as unreal as the mask, for it can conceal a self that is as ugly as a face that the mask might conceal. While it is true that initially the mask affords the chemist a new and more confident independence, he soon realizes that there is a negative side to having the mask as well. His need for a more normal relationship with his wife spurs him to test her love for him by trying to seduce her while wearing the new mask. He arranges for a clandestine meeting with his wife in a house other than his own, and the novel actually begins with an account of his waiting for her arrival. Meanwhile, he has been keeping notes in his diary of events related to the...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

The Face of Another Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hibbett, Howard, ed. Contemporary Japanese Literature. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.

Iles, Timothy. Abe Kb: An Exploration of His Prose, Drama, and Theatre. Florence, Italy: European Press Academic, 2000.

Keene, Donald. Five Modern Japanese Novelists. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Kimball, Arthur G. Crisis in Identity and Contemporary Japanese Novels. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1973.

Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai [Japan Cultural Society]. Introduction to Contemporary Japanese Literature, 1956-1970. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1972.

Martins Janiera, Armando. Japanese and Western Literature: A Comparative Study. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1970.

Rubin, Jay, ed. Modern Japanese Writers. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001.

Shields, Nancy K. Fake Fish: The Theater of Kb Abe. New York: Weatherhill, 1996.

Tsuruta, Kinya, and Thomas E. Swann, eds. Approaches to the Modern Japanese Novel. Tokyo: Sophia University Press, 1976.

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978.