Graham Greene

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

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"The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen" is told from a first-person limited point of view. That is, there is a speaker, an "I," from whose perspective the story is being observed. It is limited because we only know what is going on in this narrator's head and are limited to what he can see and hear.

The setting is established from the first line: "There were eight Japanese gentlemen having a fish dinner at Bentley's." Bentley's is a London restaurant where all the characters in the story are dining.

There are several themes you could land on for this story, but the most prominent one is perhaps that of patience and proceeding with caution: don't get ahead of yourself, and don't count your chickens before they hatch. The narrator is listening to a young woman talking to her fiance about a book she is to have published. She is certain that this, her first novel, will be a hit due to her impeccable "powers of observation," which she prattles on about.

She believes that the money she earns off the book will surpass her advance and that it will be such a hit that her second novel, which she has already decided will take place in St. Tropez (not a cheap place to do research), will be an easy sell. In other words, she is naive, overconfident, and not a little full of herself. In contrast, the narrator is an accomplished writer and understands how taxing and unforgiving the profession is. His doubtful interjections alert us to the fact that this woman is moving far too fast.

Throughout the story, even as the narrator confesses, "I found myself hoping that [her book] would prove to be a disaster," there is still the possibility that this young woman is indeed a talented novelist whose book will sell thousands of copies. But the thematic message of the story is driven home at the end when, after her fiance mentions the eight Japanese gentlemen (who were loud and animated throughout their meal and sitting at the table next to hers), she asks, "What Japanese darling?" She hasn't seen them. Powers of observation, indeed.

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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."

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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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