Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 677

The text of “The Mole” is an undated letter written by Sayoko to her husband of some years. She tells him about a dream that she has had. The night before, during a visit to her mother’s home, Sayoko reports that she dreamed of the mole located high on the upper right side of her back, near her shoulder. Through her reflections on her marriage and life and her account of her dream about her mole, Sayoko reveals both her past and present. She knows that her husband will know about the mole about which she has dreamed because it has been the focus of dissension between them from the earliest days of their marriage. When she lay in bed, her left arm across her chest, playing with the mole, her husband scolded her. It was a bad habit. The mole would grow larger. She should have it removed.

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Sayoko’s letter tells her husband of the shame she felt when he first began scolding. Even more important, she says that she first became faintly conscious of the oppression of her marriage; her lack of privacy, her lack of refuge, her total vulnerability to his control. Although she then tried to dismiss his attention to her habit of playing with the mole as inconsequential, now that she has been away from him for many years, she sees its importance.

Thinking through her life as she writes, Sayoko tells her husband the history of her relation to her mole—a history that is also the story of her own inner life. As a child she began to play with the mole, perhaps because her mother and sisters had noticed it—perhaps even finding it charming—and drew her attention to it. She remembers, however, that her mother also scolded her during puberty for her habit of rubbing the mole and staring absently into space. Her husband’s dislike for her habit grew during their marriage until it became a metaphor for their relationship. Sayoko tells her husband, “it was as though I were warding you off, as though I were embracing myself.” All attempts by her husband to change or stop her habit failed, and his dislike for her habit grew into a dislike for her. Conflict over the mole turned into abuse. Her husband beat and kicked her. Nonetheless, her habit continued. His caring ceased. One day Sayoko realized that her habit had disappeared of its own accord, but by then her husband no longer cared one way or the other.

Now regarded as a bad wife on the verge of divorce, Sayoko is surprised to find herself thinking of her husband and feeling grief. In her mother’s home she is again free to play with her mole but cannot. When she sleeps she dreams of the mole. Drunk and pleading with her husband in her dream, she touches her mole and it comes off in her hand. She beseeches him to put her mole in the pit of the mole beside his nose. Awake and weeping, she finds that her mole is still on her back. She imagines her husband’s mole swelling with the addition of hers; she imagines with pleasure that he might dream of her mole.

Her letter concludes by suggesting to her husband that playing with her mole began in her childhood as a fond expression of her connection to her family. Perhaps, she suggests, playing with the mole was a young girl’s expression of a love that she did not know how to speak. Perhaps the mole is a symbol of her love that has gone unrecognized and that has turned malignant and destructive. Like the countless “little things” that might combine to poison a relationship, the mole, seemingly insignificant in itself, has been a sign that cannot be deciphered, a language that cannot be understood.

The letter resolves nothing; like the mole, it does not appear to be read by its intended audience. Like the mole, the letter remains visible but mysterious, contemplated but never fully understood.

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