The Woman in the Dunes Characters

Kobo Abe

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Niki Jumpei

Niki Jumpei, a Japanese schoolmaster and amateur collector of insects. Thirty-one years old and ordinary looking, Niki is a rather commonplace member of the conformist urban Japanese populace. He lives in the city with a woman who is not a wholly fulfilling sexual partner. He is a creature of regular habits, appears to derive his sense of identity from the way that his society and his colleagues define him, and is not particularly individualistic or imaginative. Beneath this team-player exterior, however, Niki does harbor a few sparks of desire for individual difference and distinction; hence, he collects insects as a hobby. He took up this hobby in the hope that he would find a rare or hitherto unknown specimen of some insect and thereby earn for himself renown as an amateur entomologist. Niki also likes to toy with abstract theories about the nature of reality; he is attracted to notions such as the speculation that sand moves in waves like water (except that unlike water, sand desiccates). The novel opens on an August weekend in 1955 when Niki is out alone on an insect-gathering trip among some sand dunes by the sea. What begins as a weekend outing eventually becomes a seven-year adventure as he becomes a guest of a village in the dunes, particularly of one woman in the dunes.

The Woman in the Dunes

The Woman in the Dunes, who remains unnamed throughout the novel. About thirty years of age, she is small in build and pleasant in temperament. She is a widow and lives alone, having lost her husband and only daughter to a sand slide during a typhoon the previous year. She is a down-to-earth, sensual woman (she sleeps nude, with only a towel to cover her...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Niki Jumpei is the insect under the magnifying glass. Told from the third-person-limited point of view, The Woman in the Dunes hovers over his actions and his conscious thoughts, revealing a less than sympathetic Everyman, a man who relies too much upon his rational mind and too little on his instincts and emotions. As his “city woman” terms it, he has psychological venereal disease.

Though at times he displays some insight into the existential plight of man, and though he assumes that his understanding is deeper than that of the people around him, either in the city or the village, he is ignorant of his attraction to the woman in the dunes except in the physical sense. He can only acknowledge that there is something more than sexual in their relationship, but beyond that he is not equipped to probe. At one time he muses about who is indebted to whom—the woman to the man for his labor, or the man to the woman for her care. At the end of the novel, he is still as much in the dark as to his own psychological underpinnings as he was when the book began, only now he seems content, free from his urge to escape now that he knows he can.

The woman is both the archetypal woman—the shifting sand pit, the Freudian hole, the earth mother—and a real woman—a sensuous, living, breathing human being tied to the earth, comfortable with her body, at one with her existence and those around her. Though she is not cerebral, she is logical and resourceful, and though tender, she can also be violent. Nameless—and at one point while sleeping she is nearly obliterated by sand, becoming like a sculpture—she is more realized as a character than Jumpei, the man with an official identity.

The villagers represent the social mind-set of the provincial community. They are individuated only in the fact that one is old, the one who discovered Jumpei and lured him into the communal trap, while the others are young and vigorous. Both young and old are dedicated to the survival of the community, sharing common values and goals, placing the group before the individual.

List of Characters

(Novels for Students)

Niki Jumpei

The protagonist Niki Jumpei has such an undeveloped sense of self that throughout most of the novel...

(The entire section is 685 words.)