Kenzaburō Ōe Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Kenzabur e first gained attention through his short stories, which are included in many anthologies of postwar Japanese writing, he has also written many novels, such as Kojinteki na taiken (1964; A Personal Matter, 1968) and Man’en gannen no futtoboru (1967; The Silent Cry, 1974). Pinchi rann chso (1976; The Pinch Runner Memorandum, 1994), Jinsei no shinseki (1989; An Echo of Heaven, 1996), and Shizuka na seikatsu (1990; A Quiet Life, 1996) are also powerful novels that have been translated into English. In addition, e has published many essays on literature and politics, the latter reflecting his political activism. Much of this nonfiction work has been collected in Aimai na Nihon no watakushi (1995; Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself, 1995). e’s memoir of his life with his mentally disabled son, Kaifuku suru kazoku (1995; A Healing Family, 1996), includes beautiful watercolor paintings by his wife Itami Yukari.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Kenzabur e emerged in the late 1950’s as one of the leading figures of the postwar generation of writers. His short story “The Catch” received the coveted Akutagawa Prize in 1958. A Personal Matter won the 1964 Shinchsha Literary Prize and The Silent Cry won the Tanizaki Jun’ichir Prize in 1967. As e’s novels continued to win major Japanese literary awards, such as the Noma Literary Prize in 1973, the Yomiuri Prize in 1982, and the Ito Sei Literary Prize in 1990, his reputation began to attract international attention.

The European community awarded e the Europelia Prize in 1989, and he won the Italian Mondelosso Prize in 1993. e’s high standing in world literature was fully recognized in 1994, when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Indicative of e’s inner conflict with what he called the antidemocratic cult of the Emperor at home in Japan, he immediately declined Japan’s Imperial Order of Culture, which he received days after the Nobel Prize.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Kenzabur e (oh-ay) has published short fiction and works of nonfiction in addition to his novels. Some of his short stories have been collected in Warera no kyoki o ikinobiru michi o oshieyo (1969, 1975; Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, 1977). e has written numerous essays and speeches as well as a personal memoir of his family’s life, Kaifuku suru kazoku (1995; A Healing Family, 1996). Much of his nonfiction work, including the texts of many of his speeches, has been collected in Aimai na Nihon no watakushi (1995; Japan, the Ambiguous, and Myself: The Nobel Prize Speech, and Other Lectures, 1995). Two multivolume editions of e’s collected works have been published in Japanese by the publishing houses Shinchosha and Iwanami. The twelve-volume work by Shinchosha, which was updated and revised in 1994, contains e’s novels, principal short fiction, and nonfiction up to that date.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 was a joyful surprise for Kenzabur e, who was the second Japanese writer in history to win the prestigious award. In his acceptance speech in Stockholm on December 7, 1994, e ironically pointed to the great gulf between his unconventional, politically charged writing and the beautiful texts that had earned his predecessor, Yasunari Kawabata, the award in 1968. e’s Stockholm speech, in which he claimed the prize in part on behalf of other dissident Asian writers, indirectly explained why the author had immediately declined Japan’s Imperial Order of Culture, which he earned days after the Nobel Prize. Rejecting what he perceived as a symbol of a still-existent, antidemocratic cult of the emperor, e antagonized many Japanese who could not understand this action.

e has always occupied an ambiguous position in the literary world of Japan. His conscious attempts to forge a new Japanese literary language, his focus on alienation and suffering, and his unbending political opposition to nuclear weapons and to the emperor have earned him both admiration and puzzled rejection. In spite of this split in the Japanese reception of his works, e’s writings have earned him prestigious national and international awards from the beginning of his career. One of his first short stories, “Kimyo na shigoto” (1957; a strange job), about a student paid to kill dogs, won the Tokyo University May Festival Prize in 1957. One...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cargas, Harry James. “Fiction of Shame.” The Christian Century 112 (April 12, 1995): 382-383. Brief biographical sketch, commenting on e’s theme of guilt over Japanese attraction to Western customs and rejection of their own traditions and guilt over the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, which violates the samurai code of honor.

Napier, Susan J. Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and e Kenzabur. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. An excellent, in-depth comparative analysis of key texts by both writers. The book provides great insight into the literary imagination of these two important, yet very different, writers.

Napier, Susan J. “Marginal Arcadias: e Kenzabur’s Pastoral and Antipastoral.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 5 (December, 1993): 48-58. An intelligent critical study of the treatment of nature in e’s works. Relates e’s often fantastic and grotesque description of rural life to the author’s childhood at the remote margins of Japanese society. Successfully analyzes e’s connection to the traditions of Western pastoralism.

e, Kenzabur. “Kenzabur e: After the Nobel, a New Direction.” Interview by Sam Staggs. Publishers Weekly 242 (August 7, 1995): 438-439. e talks about his decision to discontinue writing fiction; discusses his lifestyle and his relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.

Remnick, David. “Reading Japan.” The New Yorker 70 (February 6, 1995): 38-44. Recounts a meeting with e, in which the writer talks about his life and art. Discusses e’s obsession with his mentally disabled son in several of...

(The entire section is 735 words.)