Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Prize Stock” is a powerful story, from the Japanese point of view, of encountering an amazing and fascinating stranger. The attitude of the isolated villagers to their prisoner is central to e’s tale. Initially, they look for the expected enemy, white Americans, to emerge from the downed plane. The African American is a big surprise. He is first considered to be a beast and likened to a farm animal by his captors. He becomes humanized only in close contact with his captors.

The importance of language for the establishment of common human bonds is a second major theme. The villagers’ view of the black soldier as a big beast is reinforced because he cannot speak to them to demonstrate his intelligence and they cannot talk to him. Only when he repairs the boar trap and Clerk’s artificial leg does he establish part of his humanity as a tool-using, sentient being.

Cultural sexual stereotypes are also a theme of the story. The teenagers are clearly impressed by the unfamiliar size of the captive’s genitalia, which, in their minds, reestablishes the stranger’s animalistic nature. Earlier, Frog confided how he viewed the exposed vaginas of the bathing nude village girls as unimpressive and threw small stones at them to show his disdain. He considers the black man’s penis to be beautiful and out of this world.

The effect of war on human behavior and its attendant human cost is the final theme unifying all aspects of e’s masterful story. Ordinarily, the villagers would not imprison a stranger, who is first regarded as the enemy then relegated to the level of beast before he becomes a friend to their children and helpful in the village. When the war-related order for his transfer arrives, the soldier justifiably worries he may be executed. His defense destroys his friendship with Frog and turns him into the enemy in the eyes of everybody. The adult world, with its wars and cruelties, does not allow for a continuation of the playful coexistence of the prisoner and the village children. For e, to become adult also means to lose childhood dreams of a benevolent world.