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Unformatted text preview: as well put off his escape until sometime after that.57 The themes of freedom and escape from the fetters of modern society
are important also in the work of Òe Kenzaburò, although Òe presents
the issue more clearly as that of alienation and anomie. In Òe’s typical
schema, the individual is caught in a society that makes stifling demands
upon him, demands that he cannot meet and that, therefore, render him
a failure, at least in his own mind. Compounding the personal alienation
and fear that he is going nowhere in life is the more widely shared social
malaise of anomie that sees no direction in the life of society as a whole
(that is, postwar Japan, the home of economic animals who have poured
their souls into the transistor radio).
Such an individual—held in the grip of alienation and anomie—is
Bird, the hero of Òe’s A Personal Matter (Kojinteki na Taiken, 1964), a
novel startlingly similar in conception and plot to John Updike’s Rabbit,
Run. As the story begins, we find Bird at age twenty-seven, married and
awaiting the birth of his first child. We learn how he was drunk for four
weeks after his marriage two years earlier, how he had to withdraw from
graduate school, and how he subsequently turned to his father-in-law to
obtain an unpretentious job as teacher in a college-preparatory cram
school. Bird dreams of going to Africa and has just bought a set of
Michelin road maps of the distant continent. Wandering the streets while
waiting for news of his wife from the hospital, Bird is attacked by a gang
of dragon-jacketed hoods and is beaten to the ground:
It occurred to Bird that the maps must be getting creased between his body
and the ground. And his own child was being born: the thought danced with
new poignancy to the frontlines of consciousness. A sudden rage took him, Culture in the Present Age 345 and rough despair. Until now, out of terror and bewilderment, Bird had been
contriving only to escape. But he had no intention of running now. If I don’t
fight now, I’ll not only lose the chance to go to Africa forever, my baby will be
born into the world solely to lead the worst possi...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at UBC.
- Spring '13