Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

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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, enduring women who nurture weak, feckless men. In this story, the women are practical realists, and the men are idealistic dreamers.

The title of the story alludes to a work written by Otani that has the title “Francois Villon.” There are certain parallels between events in Dazai’s story and the life of the French poet. Villon was a romantic and a poet who was accused of stealing five hundred gold crowns from the College of Navarre shortly before Christmas in 1456. His ballads, like Dazai’s story, depict his helpless entanglement in shameless vice and are known for their grim humor and their expression of the vanity of life. At another level, the reader can see Dazai depicting himself in the character Otani, who sees himself as the Francois Villon of Japan. This is particularly true in the sense that Dazai’s position was similar to that of Villon, who was loved by all of Paris for his poetry even while his personal life was a disreputable shambles.