Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Gaston (Gas) Bonaparte

Gaston (Gas) Bonaparte, a native of the Savoy region in France and a descendant of Emperor Napoleon I. Having failed to qualify as a missionary priest in France, he has followed an inner call to journey to Japan to act out some nebulous missionary role despite his limited knowledge of Japanese. A gigantic man resembling a sumo wrestler, he has a long, horselike face, with sad eyes. Despite his size and his obvious strength, he is a coward who will not even defend himself against an attacker. Moreover, he is both a simpleton and a bungler. He is a man of peace, love, and compassion who seeks to aid any creature he sees suffering from misfortune, oppression, or a physical handicap, whether it is a man, woman, or a dog; he is the “wonderful fool” of the novel’s title.

Takamori Higaki

Takamori Higaki, a young bachelor and university graduate who works in a bank in the Otemachi district of Tokyo and is a former pen pal of Bonaparte. He lives in the residential district of Kyd in Setagaya Ward, quite removed from the heart of Tokyo, with his mother and younger sister, who, to his annoyance, is in the habit of “policing” him. Although he takes his position at the bank seriously, after work he likes to make merry with friends in the amusement district of the city. He is a spendthrift and always lacking in funds. When Bonaparte arrives in Japan, the Higakis invite him into their home as a...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Wonderful Fool features as protagonist the bumbling Gaston “Gas” Bonaparte, who is far from the debonair, suave Frenchman Tomoe had imagined him to be while reading his correspondence. Physically awkward and culturally naive, he quickly becomes a burden for the sophisticated Japanese. As the story progresses, however, he evolves into a classic “fool for Christ’s sake,” whose selflessness and genuine love for his fellowman—and even for a mongrel pet—reflect the Christian attributes Shsaku End wants his reader to recognize and embrace. Like Christ, Gas has “no place to stay” and finds his greatest joy in the company of children and the “unrighteous,” those who recognize their unredeemed state and lack a smug pretense of goodness. Gaston Bonaparte is thus a “fool” in a Shakespearean sense, one who may unexpectedly speak as well as dramatize the truth in a most poignant way with his own life.

Takamori and Tomoe emerge as “typical Japanese” in End’s view, oblivious to the “good news” of the self-giving love which Gas wishes to impart. It is only after Gas disappears that his redemptive personality and mission are revealed to Takamori and Tomoe and they are enabled to act in humanitarian compassion toward their fellows within their own land. Takamori, a young office worker with no particular ambition, comes to see his rejection of Gas as “abandoning the best part of myself.” Tomoe is herself a pragmatic career woman, lacking in personal commitment or sentiment and unable to recognize until the very end that while Gas may have been a fool, “he is a wonderful fool.”

In the long run, neither Takamori nor Tomoe is as well developed or as personalized as Gas; by contrast, End, the hardened criminal whom Gas lovingly confronts, is precisely drawn, an underworld character worthy of any Dickens novel. End becomes symbolic of the despondency and regret, deep-seated in Japanese society, that only a transcendent, divine love can penetrate and transform. That the novelist named this gangster after himself seems too much of a coincidence not to reflect the extent to which he himself has struggled with his identity as a Christian in a society whose Christian population numbers less than 2 percent.