Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In this novel, Jun’ichir Tanizaki provides an ironic account of a “fool’s love” (as the Japanese title promises), but his story, given the setting he has provided, also suggests certain overtones applicable to a rapidly Westernizing Japan. Naomi is attractive to Joji not only because she is a beautiful woman but also because she seems to have all the mysterious glamour of the West. Yet despite its Western sound, her name is written with the usual Sino-Japanese characters, as Tanizaki is quick to point out. At one point, Joji manages to convince himself that Naomi has actually become a Western woman, but his illusions are soon destroyed. There are a number of scenes in the novel that suggest that all Japan, like Joji, is infatuated with a false view of Western culture, a state that can only result in frustration and disappointment. Tanizaki himself, although he never went abroad, loved Western art, literature, and ways of life as much as any writer of his generation; he was well aware at the same time, however, that his compatriots’ pursuit of a dream lying outside everyday cultural contexts could provide the basis for a mordant and wry chronicle of the times. The battle of the sexes in Naomi serves as a highly effective tool that Tanizaki uses to poke fun, sometimes with good humor, sometimes with cruelty, at the foibles and dreams of his generation.