Themes

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 282

Accepting Children for Who They Are

Though the parents might have wished that their youngest child would be able to help out on the farm as all his older brothers and sisters do, they do not attempt to change his nature or force him to be like their other children....

(The entire section contains 776 words.)

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Accepting Children for Who They Are

Though the parents might have wished that their youngest child would be able to help out on the farm as all his older brothers and sisters do, they do not attempt to change his nature or force him to be like their other children. They see his cleverness and intelligence and try to help him find a way to nurture these qualities. Because they do not try to change him, he ends up accomplishing something that no one else could, and he eventually becomes a great and famous artist.

The Importance of Following Trustworthy Advice

Though the boy does not understand the priest's advice to avoid big places at night and keep to smaller locations, he still heeds the advice, and this ends up saving his life. When he is in the temple with the goblin-rat, he realizes how large it is and finds a small cabinet in which to sleep. It is this choice to obey that confusing advice that results in his escaping the goblin-rat and which allows his cats to come alive and kill it, saving the temple and the little boy in the process.

The Power of Art

The boy loves drawing cats, and he is said to have "the genius of the artist." The art that he creates, then, is a labor of love, and this seems to give it a kind of extraordinary power. After all, beings represented in art cannot really come to life and perform actions outside of the piece in which they are composed. However, art can be so affecting and evocative that it can feel as though it has life, and it can tangibly affect people, communities, and cultures.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

In this fable, the fate of the boy illustrates the mysterious power of nature to save or destroy human life. This young artist has devoted himself to cats, and in drawing them, he wholeheartedly worships the genius, or spirit, of cats within himself. This natural genius guides him on his path to becoming a famous artist. First it sends him from his obscure temple home in the unknown village, and later it saves his life when a ravenous spirit, the enormous rat-goblin, seeks to attack and destroy him. The soldiers who earlier entered the temple at night to slay the goblin and did not survive the attempt illustrate the danger of facing life’s difficulties without a powerful natural ally, such as the cat genius of the young boy, to protect and fight for oneself.

This traditional Japanese fable expresses themes central to the ancient Shinto religion of Japan. “The Way of the Gods,” Shinto is a nature-based system of beliefs, according to which the world is guided by nature gods, composed of the powers of nature, and the enduring spirits of dead ancestors, who acquire supernatural powers after death. These ghosts continue to exist with supernatural power in the world, influencing the lives of their descendants and other nearby humans. Together, these spiritual forces influence natural events, such as rain, tides, harvest, birth, and death, for evil or good.

The Shinto gods and spirits protect and care for those humans who pay homage to their ancestors and the ancient powers of nature through prayers and offerings of food, music, dance, and other gifts. In Hearn’s story, the cat spirits protect and save the life of their devoted boy artist, just as other satisfied benign gods and spirits look after their faithful worshipers. In contrast, those neglected gods and spirits who receive no prayers and offerings become vengeful. Like the murderous rat-goblin, these forgotten ones attack and devour those who failed to remember them.

The old priest, wise in spiritual matters, recognizes the boy’s real devotion to drawing cats as his way of pleasing the gods. So he advises the boy to give up the study of religion and follow his true path. His warning to avoid large places and keep to small suggests that he knows about the crisis the boy will face on his way to becoming a great artist.

Another element of the story, the cats drawn on the white temple screens, suggests the way Shinto gods interface with the human world. The boy’s drawings, executed with skill and devotion, become a medium of spiritual power: In the dark night, they come alive to attack and kill the goblin. Later these cat drawings show evidence of their magical power in the marks of wet blood remaining on their mouths. In this vivid image of sketched black-and-white cats with mouths dripping in red blood, the reader perceives Shinto’s mystical interplay between nature’s supernatural powers and human action.

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