Mori gai, one of Japan’s most highly respected writers, was a member of the samurai class who studied Dutch and German and went to Germany to study medicine. In Germany, he was deeply influenced by the concern for the individual that is so much a part of Western culture. He became a lifelong advocate of logic and the scientific method, as well as a champion of Westernization in those areas—particularly those of scholarship and science—in which he believed the West to be superior to the East. At the same time, however, he believed that Japan had to retain what was unique and valuable in its own culture. He never proposed breaking with tradition unless he was convinced that tradition could be improved in some way.
Mori became known for the quality of his prose. He was thoroughly versed in literary Chinese as well as in Dutch and German, and his writing is that of the quintessential classicist. His work is clear, precise, and graceful, and it reflects the various traditions with which he was familiar. Although Mori never hesitated to deal with emotions, passions, and controversial subjects (his novel Vita Sexualis, 1909, was banned because of its frank treatment of sexuality), he always believed that logic was more important than emotion. He was an Apollonian, rather than a Dionysian, artist.
One of the primary characteristics of Mori’s work is its examination of the problems that arise in people’s lives when their desires conflict with the demands made upon them by society. This is certainly true of Otama in The Wild Geese, who, as a woman in Meiji-era Japan, has little freedom to make choices in her life. She understands all too well that she is being badly treated through no fault of her own, but she continues to be bound by duty. She accedes to Suezo’s wishes out of filial piety, so that her father can live out his remaining years in comfort. When she finally decides to rebel by making contact with Okada, she is thwarted because she is unable to overcome her fear of speaking to him when he is not alone. Societal constraints win out against the desires of the...
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