Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Kb Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes is like a glass box of sand that can be shaken and shifted into one form and then another, so clear yet so plastic are its possible interpretations. On one level, the novel is an existential parable of man’s plight: the trap in which all people live, the futility of all human efforts, the folly of individuality, the narrowness of group perception, the meaningless ritual of everyday existence. It can also be read as a Marxist critique of bourgeois life—the meaningless attempts to get ahead, to escape human destiny, which is a group destiny and not an individual one. Jumpei’s pretentions are as empty and futile as shoveling sand from the bottom of a sand pit. He represents the middle class; the woman represents nature and the natural “man,” one who cooperates and lives within a social context. The Woman in the Dunes also has its Freudian overtones: the watchtower or phallus representing male authority, the patriarchy hovering over both the man and the woman in the pit, keeping them in line; the ceaseless, mechanical action of the shovel in the sand (the penis in the vagina); the pit enclosing the man, threatening to suffocate him (the threat of woman to man, enclosing and suffocating him in the womb/vagina), his individuality smothered in the family and in society.

On a literary level, the novel can also be thought of as a satirical takeoff on the traditional Japanese confessional “I novel.”...

(The entire section is 509 words.)