The Man Who Turned Into a Stick

by Kobo Abe

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Abe stages his play The Man Who Turned into a Stick as a series of three one-act plays. Read the other two plays (The Suitcase and The Cliff of Time) and write an analysis of how these plays fit together. Do you find a common theme? Do the plays reflect the subtitled themes of birth, process, and death? In reading the plays together, does it give you a better grasp of what Abe was doing in The Man Who Turned into a Stick?

At the end of his play, Abe has the Man from Hell character turn to the audience and state that he sees a forest of sticks out there. If you were sitting in the audience, how would you respond? Write a letter to Abe stating how you interpret this accusation. How does it make you feel? Do you agree with the assessment? Does it waken you to some new realization about your life?

Two of Abe’s characters are described as hippies. Change the description of these characters to bring them up to date. What would their names be? How would their attitudes differ in their communications with the other characters? Rewrite the portion of the play where these two characters are on stage, using a modern definition of rebellious and alienated youth.

Abe is often compared to Franz Kafka. Read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, in which a man turns into a bug. What are the themes of Kafka’s story? Are these themes similar to any of the themes in Abe’s The Man Who Turned into a Stick? Enlist a few volunteers to sit on a panel to discuss the two works. Research the backgrounds of these writers, the overall themes of their writing, and how these factors influenced their respective stories.

Research the history of Japanese imperialist rule in Manchuria. Then write a fictionalized account of Abe’s adolescence as if it were true. You may want to focus on one week in his life, covering what it must have been like to walk through the streets in constant fear of being kidnapped or to ride on the train and see heads stuck on the ends of poles. Find out what the landscape was like. Decide if you want this story to take place during the harsh winter or another season. Remember that Abe was a loner, so you might want to include interior dialogue.

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