The Woman in the Dunes Analysis

Kobo Abe

Places Discussed

Sand dunes

Sand dunes. Coastal region in an unspecified part of Japan. At the beginning of the novel, the main character, Jumpei Niki, a science teacher and amateur entomologist, seeks to examine the sand dunes in a scientific manner, describing their physical properties and attempting to control them through rational strategies, clearly a defensive gesture to avoid confronting the existential reality of his situation. However, the sands quickly become a pervasive and unavoidable dimension of his existence, permeating his clothes, irritating his skin, and always present in his mouth. He finally comes to accept the presence of the sand dunes and to view them not as an enemy to be controlled but as a force to be worked with. At the novel’s conclusion, he uses his knowledge of science in order to construct a trap to collect condensed water from the sands.

Abe spent his boyhood in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, whose desert landscapes made a strong impact on his consciousness. The constantly changing, wind-blown shapes of the desert sands came to symbolize to him the fluid and transitory nature of what people take to be “reality” in the everyday world. Abe’s sand imagery in his novel presents an existential vision of reality that rejects any conceptualized and rationalized view of the world—the objective attitude of science, for example—that posits enduring and fixed absolutes through which human beings experience and manipulate...

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Historical Context

Japan Immediately after World War II

On April 28, 1952, the official occupation of Japan by the United States...

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Literary Style

Irony

The construction of The Woman in the Dunes includes many instances of irony. The overall ironic...

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Compare and Contrast

1960s: Tokyo is considered to have experienced an economic miracle as it emerges from war-torn status, the results of World War II, to...

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Topics for Further Study

Since Abe is often compared to Franz Kafka, read Kafka’s Metamorphosis and compare this with Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes....

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Media Adaptations

The Woman in the Dunes was adapted as a film in 1963, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara and starring an all Japanese cast. The movie won...

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What Do I Read Next?

Abe’s The Box Man, published in 1975 in English, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist who goes around the city wearing a box...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources

Abe, Kobo, The Woman in the Dunes, Vintage International, 1991.

Arnold, William, “Years...

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Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dissanyake, Wimal. “Kb Abe: Self, Place, and Body in Woman in the Dunes: A Comparative Study of the Novel and the Film.” In Literary Studies and West, edited by Jean Toyama and Nobuko Ochner. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990. Pays special attention to the theme of alienation and identity and to the importance of the sense of place in The Woman in the Dunes.

Hardin, Nancy. “Interview with Kb Abe.” Contemporary Literature 15, no. 4 (Autumn, 1974): 439-456. The major published interview with Abe. Includes important information about his life and his literary influences.

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