Themes and Meanings
The title of this story, “The Bridge of Dreams,” is the same as that of the last chapter of the eleventh century Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji. The bridge is life itself, linking memories of dead loved ones with the living. In this story, a young boy becomes so confused about the identities of his real mother and his father’s second wife that the two women merge into one nurturing figure.
Jun’ichir Tanizaki’s writing has two particular traits: It focuses on the mystery of women and is steeped in the classical literature of Japan. Both are evident in “The Bridge of Dreams.” The theme of the dimly remembered mother and the deliberate attempt of Tadasu’s father to substitute Tsuneko for her suggests a search for an idealized, if erotic, relationship. Tadasu seems less an active agent than a passive observer of his life. This life is determined by women; first his mother, then her substitute, Tsuneko.
There is a dark undercurrent throughout the memoir, as though it were written as a catharsis for the guilt he feels for his relationship with Tsuneko. The late weaning at age four—although in Japan this is not as uncommon as in the West—is followed by his being drawn into a childlike role with his new mother. However, the man-child is aware of the sexuality that has been aroused after Tsuneko bears his brother.
Readers learn that the relatives and neighbors had long suspected an incestuous affair, possibly even with his father’s encouragement, but one cannot tell for sure from evidence in the story. One is left with an uneasy suspicion that perhaps all is not revealed. This suspicion is heightened by Tadasu’s admission: “I do not allow myself the slightest falsehood or distortion. But there are limits even to telling the truth; there is a line one ought not to cross.” Tanizaki thus leaves readers with the unstated, the possibility that there are even darker secrets at which they can only guess.