Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 585 words.)