Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 280

The overarching theme of Masks relates to the dramatic distance between appearances and concealed truths, or meanings. Artistically, this may be restated as the separation of style and content. Symbolically, Masks conveys this theme by the use of "masks", which manifest in the novel as both literal masks (of Nō...

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The overarching theme of Masks relates to the dramatic distance between appearances and concealed truths, or meanings. Artistically, this may be restated as the separation of style and content. Symbolically, Masks conveys this theme by the use of "masks", which manifest in the novel as both literal masks (of Nō theater) and false personae put on by the characters to conceal their true emotions, motivations, etc.

Ironically, Nō plays use masks to reveal emotion, even though they literally conceal the actor's true underlying emotions.

In Masks this overarching theme of "masks", or duplicitous personae, splits into the following sub-themes:

Art as Truth/Fiction - Art, such as the Nō plays, reveal universal truths under fictional pretenses. Quite literally, art is fictional, made up. Yet, the two instructors of Masks, Ibuki and Mikame, discover important life lessons through Nō, which, as I suggested earlier, is doubly ironic here given that the Nō masks simultaneously reveal and conceal.

Fidelity/Infidelity - Outward expressions of sexual and romantic interest conceal underlying acts and plots of infidelity. Past love affairs leak into an intergenerational plot of revenge, unbeknownst to partners and society at large.

Dual Female Archetypes - Traditional feminine archetypes (often from male perspectives) span from the positive "nurturing mother" to the negative "castrating maneater," symbolizing the life-giving, life-taking duality of mother nature. In The Waiting Years, Fumiko Enchi presents the virtuous woman archetype, whereas, in Masks, Enchi portrays woman as vengeful and manipulative. A quote from Masks sums up this duality neatly: "Just as there is an archetype of woman as the object of man’s eternal love, so there is the archetype of women as the object of his eternal fear."

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585

Awareness of the enormous price in human suffering that her need for revenge has exacted comes to Mieko Togan at the end of Masks. After the birth of Harume’s infant son, the daughter of the Kyoto No performer Yorihito Yakushiji calls upon Mieko with the gift of one of her late father’s No masks. It is that of a female character named Fukai, and when Mieko holds it in her hand, she recalls the faces of Akio and Harume and the revenge she has sought so long. Harume’s baby cries in the next room, and the juxtaposition of his voice and the face of Fukai brings home to Mieko just what she has done: “In a trance she reached out and covered the face on the mask with her hand, while her right arm, as if suddenly paralyzed, hung frozen, immobile, in space.” The gesture is unconsciously theatrical, but it brings home the enormity of her treatment of son, daughter, and daughter-in-law.

Enchi uses the masks examined at Yakushiji’s home early in the novel to reveal the personalities of her characters. She also uses three of them as subtitles for the three sections of Masks. The first part of the novel bears the name “Ryo no Onna,” referring to the vengeful face of a coldly beautiful woman. The second is entitled “Masugami,” referring to a mask depicting the face of a madwoman; and the third bears the name “Fukai.” Hers is the face of a middle-aged woman, a mother, and it is that element in the mask that Mieko is given that causes her to recognize the pain she has inflicted on her children. All three masks describe Mieko at different stages of her life. She is the young woman driven mad by the painful betrayal of her husband and his mistress. She is the coldly vengeful Ryo no Onna, a woman intent on repaying pain with pain. At the end of the novel, by means of the gesture of the dead Kyoto actor, she realizes the mother in herself. Significantly, at the beginning of Masks, the mask which is handed to Yasuko to examine is that of “Magojiro,” the face of a young woman at the peak of her mature beauty. The masks Enchi uses as the subtitles of the sections of Masks reflect the changing identities of Yasuko and Harume as well as that of Mieko. Clearly, Harume’s is the face of a madwoman, and Yasuko, as she comes under Mieko’s influence, becomes the cold, vengeful beauty.

Enchi extends the motif of the mask into the fabric of the novel by describing the faces of actual people as masks. The woman who acts as medium at the seance that Mikamé, Ibuki, and Yasuko attend, a woman whose voice is that of a dead Frenchman, is one such mask. Another is the recurring nightmare Yasuko and Mieko share of Akio’s damaged face under the snow on Mount Fuji. Enchi fills Masks with references to Japanese folk beliefs concerning spirit possession, to the literature of the Heian period dealing with the phenomenon, and specifically to that period’s prose masterpiece, Lady Murasaki’s Genji monogatari (c. 1004; The Tale of Genji, 1925-1933). The chief of these is to a chapter recounting the unconscious possession of the body of Prince Genji’s wife by the spirit of his jealous mistress, the Rokujo Lady. Mikamé and Ibuki discover that Mieko had written an essay on this episode and published it in 1937.

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