Essays and Criticism
Only two sections out of the sixteen that make up Kyoko Mori’s novel Shizuko’s Daughter are written without the appearance of the protagonist, Yuki: the first chapter, during which Yuki’s mother commits suicide, and the last, referred to as the epilogue. Although it is quite evident why Mori might have chosen not to include Yuki in the chapter about her mother’s final moments, it is curious that she decided, after devoting all the other chapters to her protagonist, not to include Yuki in the epilogue. Instead, the focus in the last chapter is on the character Masa, Yuki’s grandmother. It is through Masa’s vision and reflection that the novel ends. The abrupt transition of the epilogue may be unsettling, leaving the reader wondering why the protagonist has disappeared. However, upon closer reading, the symbolism becomes evident, allowing the reader to conclude that the story has come to a perfect ending.
The epilogue begins on the morning of Yuki’s grandmother’s seventy-fifth birthday. Masa is Yuki’s maternal grandmother, the adult who, more clearly than any other character, represents a loving parental figure for Yuki. Upon awaking on her birthday, Masa’s vision first takes in the family altar. This altar is a shrine to all her ancestors and relatives who have died before her. Besides having lost her husband, Masa has also lost some of her children, among them Yuki’s mother. The narrator describes Masa’s thoughts as she looks at the altar and remembers other mornings when she ritualistically placed offerings on the altar. When she married her husband, the ancestors to whom she made offerings were like “a large white cloud,” Masa remembers. In other words, when she was young, the word ancestors was more or less an abstract concept that covered intangible feelings. However, now that she is seventy-five, having lived a long life, faces and memories are attached to that word. In particular, she thinks specifically about her husband, Takeo, and her daughter, Shizuko.
By creating this scene, Mori has brought her story full circle. Having begun with the death of Shizuko and then having made Masa, at the end, reflect on the death of her daughter brings the reader back to the beginning of the story. Mori doesn’t stop there, however. She not only takes the reader back to the opening events, but she also encourages the reader to reflect on the entire passage of the story from beginning to end. By having Masa think about the two major deaths in Mori’s tale, the suicide of Yuki’s mother and the death of Yuki’s grandfather (which occurs near the end of the novel), the reader travels, via Masa’s thoughts, from the events of the opening pages of this book through all but the final passages. In this way, in just the first two paragraphs of the epilogue, Mori has created a short but concise summary of her story. She does not, however, conclude her story there.
There is something else going on in the epilogue. The tone of this segment, although it resounds with the idea of death, reflects something more uplifting, more positive. Throughout the preceding chapters of the novel, the overall tenor is that of sadness, loneliness, frustration, and anger. However, here, in the epilogue, a sense of rebirth and hope exists.
In the first sentences of this final section, Mori has Masa wake up to music and “painted images of Buddha in his various manifestations.” Both music and the Buddha can be said to represent the full spectrum of emotions behind the variety of challenges that life presents. Music is played at weddings as well as at funerals, for instance. In addition, as if to emphasize that there are several ways to look at the circumstances of life, Mori refers not just to a single version of the Buddha but rather to all his various expressions; thus, the mood of this novel has changed, the focus has altered, and it is hinted that rather than looking at life through a haze of gloom, this chapter is going...
(The entire section is 1624 words.)