The Woman in the Dunes Essay - The Woman in the Dunes

Kobo Abe

The Woman in the Dunes

The teacher is caught by villagers, who preserve their territory from the encroaching sand dunes by maintaining a line of houses whose occupants shovel them free of sand every night in Sisyphean labors. Since he cannot climb out of the sand pit formed by their digging, he is forced to stay in one such dugout with its occupant, a young widow. His changing reactions to this entrapment form the body of the novel.

Kafkaesque in its straightforward exploration of a single, symbolic human situation, pitiless in its objective tone and concentration on realistic, meticulously rendered detail, the novel grips the reader, who is forced to consider the hero’s situation as emblematic of everyone’s.

Is all our work as meaningless as the protagonist’s, shoveling away the sands which will inevitably return tomorrow? Are all our relationships as cruel, as dominated by force or the harsh requirements of our physical needs? Are we all insect specimens, trapped by walls we cannot scale? Are we all anonymous animals, foolishly suffering under the illusion that our actions and discoveries can make a difference in life?

As the hero undergoes changes in his attitude toward his imprisonment, the novel seems to suggest some value in the human relationship between the hero and the woman (never named). Meanwhile, the cruelty and selfishness of the villagers and, indeed, of the hero (who at first dominates the widow with force as the villagers dominate...

(The entire section is 474 words.)