Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Yasunari Kawabata’s stories, “The Mole” captures the mind and heart of a woman at a critical moment—here the moment that a woman is breaking with her husband. First-person reflections on her body, her family, her marriage, and her life blend in this brief letter to reveal her maturing awareness of herself, her motives, her anger, and her love. Unaddressed, perhaps unsent or unanswered, this letter written in painful isolation captures the loneliness, estrangement, and failures of communication that have characterized the woman’s life with her family and with her husband. The letter without an audience also represents her own powerlessness and inability to communicate her feelings. Even the message of her dream itself is cryptic, condensed, and—like her letter—her dream cries receive no response.

In her letter Sayoko is working on her life, trying to make sense of it, trying to explain how it is she has come to be defined as a bad wife. She struggles against long years of feeling worthless and searches her life for some experience or emotion that might redeem her self-esteem. The letter, however far removed from direct communication of her feelings, is at least an attempt to reach out, to tell her husband what she has felt and thought and how she is trying to come to terms with her feelings of loss and failure.

The central image of the story is the mole. During Sayoko’s exploration of her own experience, the mole gains many levels of meaning as it comes to represent the woman and her relationship to her own body. The mole represents a kind of deformity that makes her the object of others’ pity and disgust. It elicits others’ arbitrary negative assessments of her and her body that are destructive of her well-being. The mole comes to represent the way in which she is turned in on herself, unable to communicate, as well as her husband’s refusal to accept and love her and the failure of their marriage. Although physically harmless, the enigmatic mole is emotionally malignant in Sayoko’s life.