Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

An overarching theme is the threading of life, particularly Japanese life, with dualities that produce tension, discomfort, or obstacles. These dualities, often interrelated, include East versus West, Osaka or Kyoto culture (crude, old-fashioned, tranquil) versus Tokyo culture (sophisticated, modern, busy), past versus present, the courtesan versus the mother or goddess (the male’s perception of women), active versus passive, and art or artifice versus life. The first of these subsumes the continual contrast between kimono versus Western dress, the music of the puppet theater versus jazz, the Joruri puppet versus the Occidental marionette, the Japanese versus foreign wing of an affluent home, the Oriental degradation of women in drama versus Hollywood deification.

While Misako’s father and O-hisa choose East, Osaka and Kyoto, the past and tradition, and the roles of dominant male and submissive female, Kaname and Misako are torn and waver. Added to this paralyzing irresolution is the passivity inherent in Tokyo values. Early in the novel Kaname dimly realizes that “the son of Tokyo,” in contrast to the Osakan, is prone “to an excessive concern with appearances and a timid unwillingness to act”; in the middle of the novel he recollects thinking:the ancients would perhaps have called it girlish sentimentality, this inability to face up squarely to the sorrow of a farewell. Nowadays, however, one is counted clever if one can reach a goal without tasting the sorrow, however slight it may be, that seems to lie along the way.

Appropriate to their watery vacillation, among the most prevalent imagery in the novel is that of liquid, often associated with Kaname or Misako or both. Despite the Tanizakian irresolution of the novel’s end, the rain (which culminates the recurrent liquid imagery) suggests that, like the heavy, static, irresolute climate, Kaname’s and Misako’s lives have languidly drifted to precipitating conclusion.