What are the point of view, setting, and theme of "The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen"?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting is a middle-class English restaurant. The point of view is that of a middle-aged man who is presumably the author Graham Greene himself. He is all alone and is observing the other patrons. The most conspicuous are a group of eight Japanese gentleman seated at a big table. They stand out because they are Japanese, are speaking in a foreign language, and because they are treating one another with formal manners which are rather quaint and exotic in this English setting. There is a great deal of bowing among them. Nearby is a young Englishwoman who has just sold her first novel. The reader gets the impression that the restaurant is in the heart of the London literary world, surrounded by offices of publishers, literary agents, and book dealers. The young woman is full of ambition and self-confidence, full of herself. She mentions that she has been praised for her powers of observation. Yet the whole point of the story is that this woman does not even notice the Japanese gentlemen at all. She is another mediocrity who will probably attract a certain number of readers who are as unimaginative and insensitive as she is. The story is a commentary on the literary world in general and is not too complimentary to female writers who talk glibly about superficial subjects. Obviously she does not realize what a truly difficult career she has chosen, nor does she have any conception of her own limitations. There is a strong contrast between the unobservant woman and the very perceptive and sophisticated narrator who is describing her. He is thinking that a person doesn't need brains to become a popular writer, and the profession is overcrowded and consequently precarious because so many incompetent people crowd into it. Greene chose to have this young woman speaking to her fiance at a nearby table rather than having her sitting with the narrator, as Somerset Maugham does, for example, in his misogynistic short story "The Luncheon."

linda-allen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of view of this story is third-person. The narrator is an unnamed man who decides to have lunch at Bentley's, a restaurant in London, which answers your question about the setting. One of the themes of this story is lack of observation. The young woman is excited about having her first novel published and is especially pleased that her published praised her "powers of observation." However, when her fiance mentions the Japanese men who were seated near them, she admits that she never even noticed they were there. Another theme might be called the wisdom of age versus the naivete of youth. The narrator himself is an author, and as he listens to the woman go on and on about how successful she knows she will be, he can't help thinking how naive she is. Getting one novel published does not make someone a best-selling author. She has already spent her royalties in her imagination, but what if the book doesn't sell? She'd do better to let her fiance take the job with his uncle than to dream of a rich life in St. Tropez.

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