Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 438
Abe’s work and style are often compared to Franz Kafka, a writer born in Prague in 1883. Two of Kafka’s better known works include The Metamorphosis (1915; English translation 1937), in which a young man wakes up one morning to find that he has been changed into a large bug. The theme of this book, as with most of Kafka’s work, is the individual’s feelings of inadequacy and isolation in modern civilization. The other book, The Trial (1925; English translation 1937), involves a young man accused of a crime he did not commit, much less understand. He is eventually released but must return to court to repeatedly prove his innocence. Both novels explore the psychological terrors that many people experience in modern-day life.
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Another writer to whom Abe is compared is Alain Robbe-Grillet, who was born in Brest, Brittany, in 1922. Robbe-Grillet wrote about characters who had little or no previous history and no conventional names to identify them, as do the characters of Abe’s plays. Robbe-Grillet’s most famous work is the novel Les Gommes (1953; translated as The Erasers, 1964). This book is a type of murder mystery, which covers a supposed twenty-four-hour period that begins when a bullet is fired from a gun and ends with the bullet entering and killing its victim.
Three other popular plays by Abe include Fake Fish (1973), a play about fish who dream of being men and men who dream of being fish; Friends (1965), in which a smiling but unidenti- fied family invades a man’s life and drives him to suicide—Abe’s statement against the traditional Japanese communal values; and Green Stockings (1974), a play about a man who, in an attempt to transcend his everyday existence, steals stockings, panties, and brassieres from other people’s clotheslines.
Abe’s most popular work of fiction is The Woman in the Dunes (1964). In this story a schoolteacher, who is also an amateur entomologist, sets out to find a rare insect. While searching in vast, unnamed sand dunes, the protagonist comes across a primitive colony of people whose daily task is to haul sand out of their submerged living quarters. The schoolteacher eventually becomes entrapped and is kept prisoner there. When he finally escapes, he no longer has the desire to return to his former life.
Jacob Golomb’s In Search of Authenticity: Existentialism from Kierkegaard to Camus (Problems of Modern European Thought) (1995) is a study of the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus, existential philosophers and novelists who examined mankind’s responsibility in determining what is right and wrong, a subject (and philosophy) that Abe often referred to.