Kenzaburō Ōe Additional 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.)


(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.)