The Man Who Turned Into a Stick

by Kobo Abe

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BeginningThe Man Who Turned into a Stick is a short, one act play. It is set on a busy city street in front of a department store in the middle of summer. Two characters are on stage, Hippie Boy and Hippie Girl. Abe’s script directions suggest that the hippie couple may be shown sniffing glue. Suddenly, a stick falls from above. The stick is an actual stick as well as an actor who plays the man who turned into a stick. Abe indicates that the actor playing the stick should manipulate the actual stick upon its falling. Man from Hell enters stage-left and Woman from Hell enters stage-right.

Hippie Boy is startled when he realizes how close he came to being hit by the falling stick and declares that even standing on the sidewalk can be dangerous. Man from Hell and Woman from Hell recite poetic lines referring to fate and the fact that another man has turned into a stick while Hippie Girl reflects on the incident philosophically, almost as if reading a Buddhist text. ‘‘Which do you suppose is the accident—when something hits you or when it misses?’’ she asks. Then Man from Hell and Woman from Hell continue reciting their poetic verses.

Hippie Boy picks up the stick and begins to tap out a rhythm. Hippie Girl tries to guess the song that goes along with that rhythm, then she looks up and notices a child on top of the department store (where, in Japan, there often is a type of playground). Both Hippie Girl and Hippie Boy guess that it was the boy who threw the stick down, with Hippie Girl believing it was an accident and Hippie Boy thinking the child threw it on purpose, trying to see if he could hit someone with the stick. At this point, Stick speaks his first lines. It is through these lines that the audience realizes that the stick is the father of the boy and that the boy is calling to him.

Man from Hell and Woman from Hell continue to talk in poetic stanzas until they meet at center stage. They both begin to question Hippie Boy and Hippie Girl about the stick. They want to know where the hippies found the stick. The hippies in turn want to know if the man and woman are police. The man and woman assure them that they are not with the police and ask the hippies to give them the stick.

It is clear that Hippie Boy does not trust the man and woman. He calls them liars and accuses them of being the ones who threw the stick at him and now want to suppress the evidence. Hippie Girl intervenes, reminding Hippie Boy of the child on top of the roof. Woman from Hell confirms that there was a child on the roof and that the child was calling for his father. When Man from Hell attempts to explain why they need the stick and asks for the hippies’ understanding, Hippie Boy replies: ‘‘I don’t understand nothing.’’ To which Hippie Girl makes it clear that Hippie Boy is commenting on the gap between the two generations, then adds: ‘‘We’re alienated.’’

While The Man Who Turned into a Stick bemoans his fate, the hippies and Man and Woman from Hell have a brief philosophical discussion on the topic of aims (or goals) in life. Man from Hell asks what Hippie Boy intends to do with the stick, to which the boy responds that he is ‘‘not interested in aims.’’ Hippie Girls adds: ‘‘Aims are out of...

(This entire section contains 1398 words.)

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date.’’ Man from Hell counters that since aims are out of date there is no reason for Hippie Boy to keep the stick. After circling around the theme of ambition to the point of confusion, Man from Hell concludes that it is ‘‘bad for your health to want something that doesn’t really exist.’’

The hippies become distracted. To bring them back to the subject of the stick, Man from Hell offers them money for the stick. Hippie Boy refuses the offer, stating, ‘‘Me and this stick, we understand each other.’’

The hippie couple then begin a dialogue about Hippie Girl’s sister, who has died. At the end of their conversation, Hippie Girl becomes confused and states, ‘‘Everything is wrapped in riddles.’’ Man from Hell interrupts them, once again bringing them back to the stick. Woman from Hell, who had briefly left the stage, returns, urging Man from Hell to hurry because the child is coming. She also informs him that the child saw his father turn into a stick and has told the officials in the department store, although no one believes him. At this news, the stick begins a monologue, reflecting on how he fell and questioning why he turned into a stick. At the end of the monologue, Hippie Boy suddenly drops the stick and looks at it nervously. He claims: ‘‘It twitched, like a dying fish.’’

Woman from Hell points out the small child in the crowd. She tells Man from Hell that he is coming closer. Stick, speaking to himself, says that he can hear his son’s footsteps. Hippie Boy, meanwhile, remains scared of the stick. He thinks the stick looks a lot like him. He is uneasy and finally tells Man from Hell that he will give him the stick for five dollars. Before Hippie Boy leaves the stage with his money, he tells Man from Hell that the only reason he is selling the stick is because he doesn’t want to sell the stick. He then says: ‘‘That’s a contradiction of circumstances. Do you follow me?’’ Hippie Girl then repeats: ‘‘It’s the generation gap,’’ and the two hippies leave the stage.

From this point on, Woman from Hell and Man from Hell discuss the forms and regulations that govern their investigation of yet another person who has turned into a stick. They write notes on the incident, contact their headquarters in Hell, briefing them on their findings. When Woman from Hell confesses that she feels sorry for the stick, she is told by the man that ‘‘sympathy has no place in our profession.’’

In the process of recording the event, the man and woman begin a philosophical conversation. The man refers to the stick as being capable and faithful. ‘‘In short,’’ he says, ‘‘the stick is the root and source of all tools.’’ He later adds that, ‘‘A stick remains a stick, no matter how it is used . . . . You might almost say that the etymology of the word faithful is a stick.’’ When Woman from Hell relates that this is the first time she has seen a specimen in the form of a stick, the Man from Hell reminds her that this is due to the fact that they never save stick specimens because they are so common. Then he continues by telling her that in the last thirty years the percentage of people turning into sticks, as compared to people turning into other objects, has increased. ‘‘I understand that in extreme cases,’’ he adds, ‘‘98.4 per cent of all those who die in a given month turn into sticks.’’

The woman again feels an attachment to the stick when the man tells her to discard it. She wonders if it has feelings. She also thinks that maybe they should give the stick to the young boy so he can reflect on what has happened to his father. The man, contrasting her concerns, laughs at the thought of reflection on the part of the son. The man claims that the child is satisfied, as was his father, and that is the reason the father turned into a stick.

Man and Woman from Hell slowly leave the stage, on their way to another incident of a person turning into a stick. Stick then begins another monologue, with Man and Woman from Hell standing behind a curtain, seen only in silhouette. They return, once again, to speaking in poetic stanzas as Stick reflects on what has happened. Stick questions their presumptions that he was satisfied. Man from Hell then steps out from behind the curtain and points out that there is ‘‘a whole forest of sticks’’ in the audience. Woman from Hell goes over to Stick and tells him that he is not alone.