The Man Who Turned Into a Stick

by Kobo Abe

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Hippie Boy
Hippie Boy is standing on the sidewalk outside a department store when a stick falls, barely missing him. At first he is angry at whoever threw the stick down, then, as the play progresses, he becomes simultaneously attached to the stick and repulsed by it because it reminds him too much of himself. He thinks he looks like the stick and believes that the stick understands him.

In the beginning, Hippie Boy does not want to part with the stick, but in the end he sells the stick to the Man from Hell. Hippie Boy tells Man from Hell that the only reason he is selling the stick is because he doesn’t want to sell it. Hippie Boy represents the alter ego, or opposite, of Man from Hell. He is a symbol of rebellious youth, and he makes decisions based on emotions.

Hippie Girl
Hippie Girl is partnered with Hippie Boy, much like Woman from Hell is partnered with Man from Hell. She is somewhat subservient to Hippie Boy, who at one point tells her she is stupid and at another time tells her to shut up. Hippie Girl does not respond. She is also more emotionally involved with the little boy on top of the department store, whereas Hippie Boy is only angry with him, declaring that he hates kids. She also tries to explain Hippie Boy, in some ways, to the older couple. She reinforces Hippie Boy’s thoughts, for instance, by explaining Hippie Boy’s attitude by telling Man and Woman from Hell that the younger generation is alienated. At one point in the play, Hippie Girl asks Hippie Boy for a kiss, which he refuses. She then stands up for herself after the rejection, telling him that he needn’t put on airs. She then asks him to scratch her back with the stick, which he does reluctantly. When Hippie Boy becomes upset about his resemblance to the stick, Hippie Girl is very consoling, showing her emotional connection with Hippie Boy.

Man from Hell
Man from Hell works with his partner, Woman from Hell, reporting cases of people turning into objects (apparently upon death). Man from Hell stresses rationality, and he appears to be a mentor of the woman, who is in training. In his communications with the hippies, Man from Hell comes across as a parent, or authority, figure. However, when Woman from Hell suggests that they give Stick to the young boy, Man from Hell expresses no sentiment whatsoever. He represents logic and discipline. He is detached from the people with whom he must associate. The only hint of softness in his tone occurs when he calls headquarters and asks the person on the other end of the line to deliver a message to his wife. It is Man from Hell who, at the end of play, stands before the audience and tells them that he hopes they don’t think he is rude by pointing out that they are all sticks. ‘‘It’s just the simple truth,’’ he says, ‘‘the truth as I see it.’’ Man from Hell represents bureaucracy and the status quo.

Stick
Stick is the man who falls off the roof, leaving his son above, as he turns into a stick. He is dying. He displays his emotions when he thinks about his son, who has been crying out for him from atop the department store. Almost all his comments are emotional. He hears the conversations of Man and Woman from Hell as well as of Hippie Boy and Hippie Girl. When he observes what they are saying, he reacts emotionally. He does...

(This entire section contains 987 words.)

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not understand why he has turned into a stick, or even why he fell off the roof. When Man from Hell suggests that Stick was satisfied, Stick questions this, claiming that he never felt satisfied.

When Stick is thrown into the wet gutter, he exclaims that he would be surprised if he didn’t catch a cold, thereby acknowledging that he doesn’t fully realize his own condition: first, that he has been turned into a stick; and second, that he is dying. He also questions his condition when his son almost discovers him in his new stick form. The stick asks: ‘‘There was nothing I could have done anyway, was there?’’ Woman from Hell describes a stick as something that is used by people for some particular reason. To this comment, Stick replies to himself: ‘‘That’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s true of everybody.’’

Stick represents people who are too rigid, who get stuck in certain patterns in life and cannot break free of them. Stuck in this way, they might as well be dead, for they no longer experience life with a fresh view.

Woman from Hell
Woman from Hell’s job is to record, in an unemotional way, the occurrences of people turning into objects. Woman from Hell is in training and at times must be reminded what to do. Woman from Hell also tends to become emotionally involved with the people she studies, as contrasted with her partner and mentor, Man from Hell, who is pure logic. Woman from Hell empathizes with the man who has turned into a stick and with his son. She feels badly about throwing the stick in the gutter and wants to give it to the young son. When Man from Hell expresses doubt that he or she really exists, being no more than the dreams of dying people, Woman from Hell states: ‘‘If those are dreams, they are horrible nightmares.’’ At the end of the play, Woman from Hell tries to comfort Stick, telling him (after Man from Hell points out an audience full of sticks) that he is not alone. ‘‘You’ve lots of friends,’’ she tells him. Woman from Hell represents the formation of bureaucracy. She registers details but maintains empathetic relationships with the things she studies.

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