Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Kazuko, the narrator, a twenty-nine-year-old woman living with her mother. She is from an aristocratic family whose fortunes are dwindling, and she is well-educated in Western culture. She sees herself as a victim. After her marriage ended in divorce, she returned home to live with her mother. She idolizes her mother’s elegant manners but, like her mother, is helpless in handling finances. After leaving their Tokyo estate and servants for a humbler life in the country, Kazuko and her mother await the return of Naoji, Kazuko’s brother. Kazuko becomes hysterical over her mother’s waning health and favoritism of Naoji. She sends frantic love letters to a dissolute writer, Uehara, and eventually pursues him in Tokyo to achieve her purpose of becoming pregnant.


Naoji, her brother, a frustrated writer. He is fearful of everyone. As a student, his aristocratic background was a burden. As a soldier in a losing war, he felt despair that led him to opium. He rationalized that under the effects of drugs he could become friendly and brutal like the common people. The pose of being coarse never won people’s approval and never quelled his innate sensibilities. He ruthlessly impoverishes his mother and sister to pretend to start a publishing business. He even fails at declaring his love for a married woman. His mother’s death overwhelms him with guilt. In the end, he commits suicide.

The mother...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The three major characters, Kazuko, Naoji, and their mother, are vividly and sympathetically drawn. To some extent each represents an aspect of the novelist’s personality. Like Naoji, Osamu Dazai struggled bitterly with the problem of artistic expression and also eventually committed suicide. Like Kazuko, he managed to give his anguish a form by writing the novel—his equivalent of Kazuko’s child. Like the mother, he found himself drawn to the old world but unable to live in it.

Kazuko is the most complex of the three characters. While she conceals much of her motivation and emotions with a narrative reticence, she is also forthright and honest in her portrayal of shame and suffering. She understands and admires her mother’s gentility and is disappointed that she does not embody such aristocratic virtues. At the same time, Kazuko is aware that moral standards as well as class distinctions are changing, and she faces the need to adjust to the world, however painful this change may be. Throughout her crises, Kazuko never loses her essential compassion for her mother and brother. This understanding and sympathy show that her affair with Uehara is not simply expedient or self-serving.

Naoji does not lack such compassion, as his diaries and his clumsy attempt to help his sick mother reveal, but ultimately he finds no outlet for such emotions except the outpourings of his journal and the impossible love for a married woman. Uncomfortable in either the dying aristocratic world or the coarser postwar world, he represents the difficulty that any artist must face when confronting change, especially cataclysmic social revolution. His suicide, then, reflects the dead end of the artist, or any individual, who cannot break with the past.

Naoji’s mother also cannot survive in the modern world. She lives, however, with a graceful accommodation to her situation and refuses to impose her own suffering on others, concentrating her love on Naoji.

The novelist Uehara represents one final alternative for the modern writer. Uehara profits from his abandonment of traditional values and his frank handling of dissolution. In this rebellion, Kazuko finds strength. Yet while Uehara is generous with his fellow drunkards, his lack of essential compassion makes his alternative less appealing than that of Kazuko; Uehara’s writing, while realistic, does not seem to capture the suffering that Naoji’s journal, or the novel itself, does.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Lyons, Phyllis I. “‘Art Is Me’: Dazai Osamu’s Narrative Voice as a Permeable Self,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. XLI (June, 1981), pp. 93-110.

Lyons, Phyllis I. The Saga of Dazai Osamu: A Critical Study with Translations, 1985.

Miyoshi, Masao. “Till Death Do Us Part: Dazai Osamu—The Setting Sun,” in Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel, 1974.

Rimer, J. Thomas. “Dazai Osamu: The Death of the Past—The Setting Sun,” in Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: An Introduction, 1978.