Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! Summary
by Kenzaburō Ōe

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Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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While traveling in Europe with a television crew, K picks up a copy of the Complete Works of William Blake because he was inspired by a line from Blake’s poetry that he had read in a novel by Malcolm Lowry. Blake was a nineteenth century British Romantic poet who wrote prophetic poems and lyrics that redefined the major themes of Christianity, and he illustrated his poetry with engravings of mystical creatures. K remembers that he had previously translated a Blake poem, a significant creative act for K. This act reminds K of his demanding relationship with his son Eeyore, whose real name is Hikari.

Eeyore is mentally disabled, and K uses the imaginative world of Blake to mediate between himself and Eeyore’s bizarre antics and behaviors. One day, when K was away from Japan on a trip, Eeyore had become physically violent, attacking his mother with a judo kick that made her fall to the ground. Later, Eeyore grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and made suspicious comments. Eeyore is almost twenty years old and is a powerful physical presence of equal height and weight when compared with his father. He is a child in the body of a fully developed adult. He makes irrational statements, believing that his father is dead when he is only attending a conference or on another trip. K is afraid Eeyore is becoming increasingly unpredictable and that he might need to be institutionalized.

K successfully convinces Eeyore that he is still alive by allowing him to stroke his bare foot, thus giving Eeyore a new definition for “foot.” K had promised to write a book of definitions for everything in the world that would help disabled children like his son, and this promise underlines his desire to pass on his accumulated wisdom to Eeyore.

K was born and raised in a small village on Shikoku, the smallest and most rural of Japan’s four main islands. When he entered Tokyo University, he felt marginalized by the giant city and its sophistication, until one day, when he accidentally discovered some lines from Blake’s prophetic poem The Four Zoas in a book lying open in a library. The poem made K recall the dark valley of his childhood and how imagination is crucial to the process of learning and renewal. K remembers childhood experiences such as swimming underwater inside Carp Cave and nearly drowning before being rescued by his mother. His “rebirth” from near-death reminds K of the epileptic seizures suffered by his son and of Eeyore’s second birth following brain surgery to remove a large growth inside his skull. K continues to look for ways in which he can use Blake’s poetry to re-create the world for his son. K worries that his son lacks imagination and the ability to dream and will not be able to understand the modern world.

Eeyore, in middle school, is taking swimming lessons at a private health club. K thought the physical experience of moving in the water would increase the emotional bond with his son because they would need to verbalize instructions and emotions. However, a military group is training in the same pool under the direction of Mr. Shumata, a former Olympic athlete. The military men resemble Yukio Mishima’s private army and are planning a celebration of the tenth anniversary of Mishima’s aborted attempt to overthrow the Japanese government and his subsequent suicide in 1970. K is troubled by Mishima’s use of violence as political expression and by the young men’s apparent admiration for militarism. Suddenly, Eeyore begins to have trouble swimming, and Mr. Shumata dives in to rescue K’s son, just as K had been rescued by his mother as a child. K is humiliated that he could not act quickly enough to rescue his own son.

A young American graduate student named Martha Crowley has been researching theories of sex and violence, and she is in Japan to interview K about Mishima and his desire to resurrect the Japanese imperial empire. Crowley worries that the memory of Mishima’s suicide will damage Eeyore’s fragile identity because Eeyore remembers the photograph of Mishima’s severed head appearing in the newspaper. K recalls several troubling episodes of Eeyore’s youth, including his own wish to kill Eeyore as an infant when he discovered the extent of his son’s abnormalities. He also remembers a trip to the family cabin on the Izu peninsula. A typhoon forced father and son to shelter each other as the storm knocked down trees and battered the cabin. As Eeyore grew up, he learned to recognize bird calls and became a gifted musician and composer.

K and Eeyore are now collaborating on a drama called “Gulliver’s Foot and the Country of the Little People,” about the role of the weak in preventing the horrors of war. The drama is performed at Eeyore’s special school. The script, written by K, depicts Gulliver as a weapon in a war between two nations. The king of one country asks Gulliver to destroy the ships and people of the neighboring country, but Gulliver refuses, and the two nations disarm.

K has celebrity status, in part because of his antinuclear politics. One day, two students, Unami and Inada, kidnap Eeyore in hopes of forcing K to reexamine his views. Eeyore is returned unharmed. K writes a story about a transcendental experience with a rain tree in Bali, and he realizes that his spirit will eventually merge with Eeyore’s after his death, much as Blake had foretold.

As Eeyore answers to his real name, Hikari, while being called to dinner by his brother, K realizes that Eeyore has indeed become Hikari, which means “light” in Japanese. Though still mentally challenged, Hikari has matured into a young man of the new age.

Sources for Further Study

Bradbury, Steven, Donald Pease, Rob Wilson, and Kenzabur e. “A Conversation with e Kenzabur.” Boundary 2 20, no. 2 (Summer, 1993): 1-23. An interview conducted by Pease and Wilson with the author in Tokyo in 1991. e explains his fascination with William Blake and his views on nonviolence in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the first Gulf War.

Claremont, Yasuko. The Novels of Kenzabur e. New York: Routledge, 2009. A full-length critical study that covers e’s career from 1957 to 2006, including analysis of his later novels. Claremont documents the philosophical journey of e through postwar nihilism, atonement for Japan’s errors, and redemption in the modern world through myth and imagination.

Napier, Susan J. “Death and the Emperor: Mishima, e, and the Politics of Betrayal.” Journal of Asian Studies 48, no. 1 (February, 1989): 71-89. A fascinating article about the resurrection of the emperor system in modern Japan under the leadership of Yukio Mishima, which is critiqued extensively in the work of e.

Wilson, Michiko N. The Marginal World of e Kenzabur: A Study in Themes and Techniques. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1986. A critical study of the themes of the outsider, cultural boundaries, and marginalization in e’s fiction through the lenses of semiotics and poststructuralism.