Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Osamu Dazai, who had always been a social rebel, found himself in a paradoxical situation when Japan surrendered in 1945. For years, he had been preaching the message that accepted social values were bankrupt. With the loss of the war, society at large came to agree with him, and, indeed, saw him as something of a prophet. Although he offered no new set of social values to replace the old, with this story and some postwar novels, he became a major spokesperson for the values and attitudes of Japanese society at that time.

Typically for Dazai, the two central characters, Otani and his wife, represent contrasts at every level. In this regard, they become spokespeople for two different approaches to Japan’s postwar condition. The wife is industrious, nurturing, practical, and willing to deal with problems. Otani, on the other hand, is frivolous, irresponsible, dissolute, and self-indulgent. In the end, the wife has the strength to recognize her situation and to adapt, accept, and endure it, although her husband cannot. For the wife, the most important thing is survival at any cost, no matter how degrading or dehumanizing that survival turns out to be. The husband cannot accept life on those terms, and for him there is only flight and despair. Although the wife understands and accepts her condition and changes her way of living to ensure survival, the husband fails to come to terms with his desperate condition. It is typical of Dazai to depict strong,...

(The entire section is 414 words.)