What is the main point or purpose of The Man Who Turned Into a Stick, by Kobo Abe?

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kjtracy eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kobo Abe wrote The Man Who Turned into a Stick as part of a series of plays intended to serve as a commentary on the nature of dehumanization.

Exploitation and dehumanization are central themes in the play based on Abe's short works. Abe uses this story to explore the idea of one group exploiting another due to perceived differences between them. The play also focuses heavily on the theme of alienation or the separation and isolation of the individual within modern society. The story follows a man who physically resembles a stick and whose only meaning in life seems to be serving as a pawn for others. This character faces both internal and external punishments due to his passive nature. Over time, in a transformation similar to that of the main character in The Metamorphosis, he actually turns into a stick.

After the newly transformed stick falls from the roof of a department store, two other characters in the story are tasked with transporting it to Hell. In Hell, it is revealed that there is no shortage of human beings who have been turned into sticks due to societal pressures. Through this unusual, symbolic work, Abe criticizes the tendency within society to use people as objects. By transforming human characters into literal objects, the author presents a dramatic metaphor for the gradual transformation of people into tools to be used by the masses. Throughout the course of the play, it is made clear that the subtle objectification that occurs in reality is just as dangerous as the surreal transformation that occurs in the work.

Although the play is short, The Man Who Turned into a Stick delivers a powerful message. There are many layers of meaning to the play that critics continue to discuss to this day. At the conclusion of the play, one of the characters remarks accusatorily that the members of the audience resemble sticks as well. The central point of the story is that no one is exempt from objectification. In a world that sees humans as objects to be used for material gain, anyone could be dehumanized next.