Kenzaburō Ōe Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kenzabur e (oh-ay) was born in 1935 in the village of se on the island of Shikoku, Japan, the smallest and most isolated of the four main islands. The third son of seven children, he was six when Japan entered fully into World War II. On August 6, 1945, when e was ten years old, the United States Army dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito for the first time spoke on the radio in a “human voice,” announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan. This event was a defining moment in e’s life. Up until then, he had been taught, like all Japanese schoolchildren, to fear the emperor as a god and to promise to die for him if he were asked. Every day his turn came to be called to the front of the classroom and be asked: “What would you do if the emperor commanded you to die?” Trembling, e would reply, “I would die, Sir. I would cut open my belly and die.” So the truth of the emperor’s divinity, as e had been taught it, was declared a lie. He felt betrayed, and his anger became his motivation as a writer as he witnessed the suffering of many Japanese people who were affected by the war.

In 1954, e entered Tokyo University, where he majored in French literature. While there, he published his first story in the student newspaper and received the May Festival Prize for it. e’s first commercially published story, “Shisha no ogori” (1957; “Lavish the Dead,” 1965), missed the coveted Akutagawa Prize by one vote, but he did win that prize the following year for his acclaimed story “Shiiku” (1958; “The Catch,” 1966). e was a brilliant student of language and philosophy, but he kept to himself. Withdrawn by nature and ashamed of his provincial accent and his stutter, he remained a loner. He lived in a rooming house near the campus, where at night he set about pursuing his writing career in earnest.

e’s first novel, Memushiri kouchi (1958; Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, 1995), reflects his provincial background...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Kenzaburō Ōe Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kenzabur e (oh-ay) is Japan’s foremost existentialist writer and essayist, whose work deals with the plight of human beings set against the backdrop of postwar Japan. Born in the village of se on the island of Shikoku in southern Japan, e, the third of seven children, lost his father in 1944, and when the emperor acknowledged Japan’s defeat in his first-ever radio address on August 15, 1945, the boy experienced a complete collapse of his world.e, Kenzabur{omacr}[Oe, Kenzaburo]}e, Kenzabur{omacr}[Oe, Kenzaburo]}e, Kenzabur{omacr}[Oe, Kenzaburo]}

It was this sudden awakening to an uncaring universe devoid of a superhuman ruler that led to e’s study of French existentialism and such American writers as Henry Miller and Norman Mailer when he entered Tokyo University in 1954. He graduated with a degree in French literature in 1959. His marriage to Yukari Itami in 1960 produced three children. The fate of the oldest, a mentally disabled son named Hikari, is central to e’s fiction.

e’s 1958 novella, The Catch, turns to the war years, portraying the impossible friendship between a Japanese boy and a black American prisoner of war; it ends in an outburst of collective violence. This work cemented e’s national fame and won for him the prestigious Akutagawa Prize (e was the first student ever to be so honored). That same year he wrote Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, a story of reform-school boys who are abandoned in a remote village when a plague breaks out. The boys make themselves at home in the village, even performing childish versions of hunting ceremonies to ensure the town’s continued prosperity.

The year 1964 was a turning point for e’s work, for in this year the author began fictionalizing his life with his mentally disabled son. A Personal Matter is the seminal work of this period; here, the...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

Kenzaburō Ōe Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Kenzabur e was born on January 31, 1935, in a small village on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. The third son of seven children, he was only six when World War II erupted; he lost his father. e was ten when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic attack as the war ended. He entered prestigious Tokyo University in 1954, studying French literature, and burst upon the literary scene while still a student there, publishing a short story, “Shisa no ogori” (“Lavish the Dead”), in the magazine Bungakukai in 1957. It attracted attention, and his talent was widely recognized when he received the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1958 for “The Catch,” which draws upon his experience as a boy in a remote rural village during World War II.

After his graduation, e married Itami Yukari, the daughter of screenwriter Itami Mansaku, in February, 1960. In May of that year he was a member of the Japan-China Literary Delegation, which met with Mao Zedong. The next year he traveled in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe, where he met Jean-Paul Sartre.

Drawing upon his childhood, e dealt in his early works with alienation and those on the fringes of society, as well as political issues, contemporary society, and sexual mores. In the summer of 1963, however, his first son was born with serious brain damage, leading him to a new stage in his writing, in which he affirmed hope arising from despair. In five works...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Kenzaburō Ōe Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Kenzabur e was born in the small town of se in the prefecture of Ehime, on Shikoku Island, Japan, on January 31, 1935. The first important chain of events in his life, in terms of the literary tendencies he later developed, began with Japan’s defeat in World War II, the subsequent declaration of the emperor’s change of status from divine to human, and the taking over of Japan by the U.S. Army. These drastic changes resulted in an unimaginable chaos of values in postwar Japan.

In 1954, e became a student at Tokyo University, majoring in French literature. He began writing short stories while devouring the works of such authors as Blaise Pascal, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Norman Mailer, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow. His first novel, Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids, was published in 1958. One year after his graduation from the university in 1959, he married Yukari Itami, the daughter of film director Mansaku Itami. e participated in organizing various protests in an attempt to cut Japan off from the nuclear umbrella of the United States, but he became disillusioned and finally discontinued his efforts when he found that left-wing organizations did not condemn nuclear tests conducted by Communist countries.

In 1963, e’s first child, a son whom his parents named Hikari, meaning “light” in English, had to undergo a series of operations shortly after birth because of defective bone structure in his head. The field trip that e made to Hiroshima the following summer as a reporter revealed the incredible hardships of the victims of the atomic bomb, which he associated with his personal ordeal. In combination, these two experiences produced a novel, A Personal Matter, in 1964. After this novel, the motif of physical deformity became pervasive in e’s novels and short stories.

e traveled widely. In 1960, as a member of the Japanese literature delegation, he went to China, where he met Mao Zedong. In 1961, he stayed in Europe for four months at the invitation of Bulgaria and Poland. He also visited, on this occasion, the Soviet Union, England, and France, where...

(The entire section is 865 words.)