The Setting Sun

by Osamu Dazai

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Last Updated June 29, 2023.

Kazuko

Kazuko, a twenty-nine-year-old divorcee, grew up in an aristocratic family in Tokyo; however, her family’s fortune soon declined, and she now lives in poverty in a small countryside villa. To survive, she works in the fields and cooks for herself and her mother, unfamiliar pastimes to someone of her background. 

Despite her diminished circumstances, Kazuko reveals herself as a well-educated, highly cultured, and thoughtful woman. She reads widely, and her conversation is full of references to European culture. 

However, Kazuko is plagued by feelings of shame, worried that she is not a good enough daughter for her elegant mother. Over time, Kazuko reveals herself to be highly sensitive and prone to bouts of melancholy; she also clings to her aristocratic self-confidence, which allows her to pursue her relationship with a married man, to whom she writes: “Ever since I was small, people have often told me that to be with me is to forget one’s troubles. I have never had the experience of being disliked.”

Naoji

Naoji is Kazuko’s younger brother. At the beginning of the novel, he is missing in the South Pacific, where he was serving in the army. Although his mother assumes the worst, he later returns to Japan to live with her and Kazuko. 

A man of divided beliefs, Naoji loves literature and other mindful pastimes but feels alienated from a society he regards as hypocritical and shallow. When he was younger, Naoji was addicted to opium; upon returning home, he relapsed into his old ways, living a dissolute lifestyle, drinking and taking drugs, and spending money irresponsibly. 

In his suicide note, he writes: “It is painful for the plant which is myself to live in the atmosphere and light of this world. Somewhere an element is lacking which would permit me to continue. I am wanting.”

Mother

Kazuko and Naoji’s mother goes unnamed; she is a gracious lady with perfect taste. Her elegance and consideration for others often lead her to ruin. Indeed, Kazuko regards her mother as too beautiful and sensitive to survive in the coarse atmosphere of the modern world. As such, Kazuko is grieved but not surprised by her death. Her mother is arguably unconventional in her table manners and conduct, but Kazuko and Naoji both see her as the only true aristocrat in their family. Even as she dies, her face is “so full of animation that it seemed almost to shine.”

Uncle Wada

Uncle Wada acts as the head of Kazuko’s family; they seek his advice and financial support in all important practical matters. Naoji accuses him of being stingy, as he does not provide a generous allowance for Kazuko and her family and instead suggests that she should work as a governess. Uncle Wada traveled to Europe in his youth and is generally regarded as worldly and experienced.

Mr. Uehara

Mr. Uehara is a well-known novelist living in Tokyo. He teaches Naoji and becomes his closest friend; their friendship does not help Naoji’s rebellious spirit, as Uehara is a heavy drinker who leads a disreputable lifestyle. His writing is widely condemned as immoral by the public and critics, and it becomes ever more shocking as his career progresses. 

Despite engaging in an affair with Mr. Uehara, Kazuko is ambivalent in her feelings toward the older man, finding aspects of his character and appearance repulsive. Ultimately, she decides that she loves him and wishes to have his child. Uehara is equally uncertain about her, displaying physical attraction and understanding even as he resents her aristocratic arrogance.

Mrs. Uehara

Mrs. Uehara, the wife of the novelist, is left at home in the dark both metaphorically and literally: she is unaware of her husband’s infidelity, but she also does not have enough money to purchase light bulbs because her husband refuses to provide her with financial support. Despite Mr. Uehara’s mistreatment and infidelity, Mrs. Uehara is gracious and kindly, seeming to Kazuko to embody the ideal of Japanese womanhood.

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