Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181

Fumiko Enchi herself spent more than ten years translating The Tale of Genji into modern Japanese, so it comes as no surprise that she draws upon it in the construction of her own fiction. Her novel Onnazaka (1957; The Waiting Years, 1971) shows the influence of Murasaki’s work. Like Masks, this novel deals with three women struggling against the paternalistic family structure of Japan, but it deals with nineteenth rather than twentieth century Japan.

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Masks is among Enchi’s most challenging works. It rises above the preoccupation with social and political conditions limiting the expression of Japanese women that characterizes her work since the 1920’s. It also transcends the overtly feminist twist Enchi gives characters and plot. While the proposition that Mieko Togan suffered at the hands of an insensitive husband and his jealous mistress does not need to be challenged, Enchi cannot justify Mieko’s response except by giving it the plausibility of a case of spirit possession. In the context of the folk beliefs and ancient texts to which Enchi alludes, Mieko’s conduct takes on the authenticity of archetype.

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