Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 295
The main character, Masuji Ono, is a retired painter who thinks of himself as an influential man. Although the end of the novel casts some doubt on his actual importance to the war effort, he believes his artistic efforts made a substantial contribution to support for the war, and his pride — and later, dismay — over these achievements show his developing understanding.
His daughters Setsuko and Noriko appear throughout the novel, and Noriko's wedding negotiations drive much of the plot since Ono prepares for the investigation of his family by the prospective groom's family (a part of the traditional Japanese arranged marriage) by talking with some of the people from his past who might be approached by the investigator. He comes to think that his reputation as an artist who collaborated with the war effort may prove a hindrance in arranging the marriage, and at Noriko's miai, a meeting between prospective bride, groom, and their families, Ono formally apologizes for his past.
The novel also traces some of Ono's students, who have achieved different stations in life and reached differing opinions about their past affiliation with Ono. Shintaro, one of Ono's less promising students, still shows up to drink with his former teacher at Mrs. Kawakami's, but in the course of the novel asks Ono to say that Shintaro only unwillingly produced work for the imperialistic movement, which Ono is not at that point willing to do. Kuroda, one of Ono's most talented pupils, has repudiated his former teacher and will have nothing to do with him, writing coldly in response to Ono's overtures that "I have no reason to believe that a meeting between us would produce anything of value." These snubs from his students help to prod Ono toward the recognition of his culpability.