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

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age!, the novelist-narrator reflects on many difficult challenges facing him in life. The narrator’s career path bears many similarities with that of e, who published other autobiographical novels about distressed fathers of disabled children. This novel recounts the harrowing circumstances of Eeyore’s birth (also described in A Personal Matter), when the baby was born with two brains, one protruding outside his skull that was surgically removed. The protagonist’s single-letter name alludes to Kokoro (1914), a novel by Natsume Sseki, in which the character K impedes the path of the protagonist toward ideal love. In the same way, K’s son Eeyore provides a constant stream of funny, disheartening, and shocking statements that cause the narrator to stumble. As K attempts to understand Eeyore’s peculiar behavior, he is propelled toward new definitions of life, death, love, and human compassion.

On one of his frequent trips out of Japan, K happens to buy an edition of the Complete Works of William Blake, the eighteenth century British poet, visionary, composer, and engraver. K recalls that many years ago he had attempted his own translation of a Blake poem in the midst of a writing project. As the father of a severely handicapped son, K feels his imagination being drawn toward the world of Blake as a means of explaining suffering and life’s ironies. Blake’s poems become a powerful subtext and running commentary on K’s life as an author and parent. Unable to sleep in his Frankfurt hotel room, K reads his volume of Blake poems, seeking comfort from the mind-numbing stress and chaos of being the parent of a mentally challenged son. Eeyore is almost twenty years old and has reached a physically intimidating size. He is a mental infant inhabiting the body of a powerful man. K fears the increasing unpredictability of his son, whose hulking presence preempts the needs of his other two children.

Looking back over his career as a writer, K recalls a promise that he would transcribe all the dominant themes of life in a manner so simple that even his retarded son could understand. Blake felt compelled to redefine the major themes of Christianity and European history. As a dutiful parent, K is obligated to leave instructions and wisdom behind him after his death. K soon realizes that this goal is impossible. Instead, K chronicles the changing directions of his imagination under the powerful influence of Blake. Each chapter of Rouse Up, O Young Men of the New Age! takes the title of a Blake poem such as “Let the Inchained Soul Rise and Look Out” (chapter 6).

K closely monitors Eeyore’s schooling, his attempts to work at jobs, and various disastrous accidents, such as the time a student kidnaps Eeyore and abandons him at a train station in protest of K’s liberal politics. Ultimately, Eeyore finds his true calling when he begins to write and perform classical music. The book’s culmination takes place when Eeyore rejects his nickname and refuses to join the family at dinner until they call him by his real name, Hikari, which means “light.”


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 98 (February 1, 2002): 908.

The New Yorker 78 (May 20, 2002): 113.

Publishers Weekly 249 (January 28, 2002): 267.

Review of Contemporary Fiction 22 (Fall, 2002): 145.