Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In Snow Country, as in so much of the fiction produced during his career, Kawabata deals with a man preoccupied with the preternatural beauty of one or more young women. Here he presents a typical protagonist in Shimamura, a dilettante from Tokyo, a man in retreat from ordinary life and susceptible to female beauty in its most innocent, virginal form. Kawabata uses a series of reflections, images of mirrors, to demonstrate both the strength of that attraction for Shimamura and its ambiguous nature. The first of these is the sight of Yoko reflected in the window of the train bringing Shimamura to the resort in December. Komako is also observed in her mirror. “The white in the depths of the mirror was the snow, and floating in the middle of it were the woman’s bright red cheeks. There was an indescribably fresh beauty in the contrast.” The red and white in the mirror link these motifs to others in Snow Country, even to the title of the novel itself. The alternation of passion and restraint which the colors suggest marks Shimamura’s observation of Komako herself and Kawabata’s characterization of her as well. She lives in December in a room lined in white paper that once housed feeding silkworms, the color contrasting with Komako’s “vermilion sewing-box” and the “brilliant red under-kimono” that she wears as a geisha. The flush that alcohol and passion bring to her cheeks foreshadows the conflagration with which Snow...

(The entire section is 479 words.)