Thousand Cranes By Yasunari Kawabata

.. ly maintains throughout the course of the story. The last words of the book reinforce this continued loathing- ” ‘And only Kurimoto is left.’ As if spitting out all the accumulated venom on the woman he took for his enemy, Kikuji hurried into the shade of the park.” I think that it can safely be concluded that this is one aspect of his past that Kikuji will never change his position on. As Chikako cleans the cottage, “The sound of her broom became the sound of a broom sweeping the contents of his skull, and her cloth polishing the veranda a cloth rubbing at his skull.” This extraordinary metaphor gives us great insight into Kikuji’s attitude towards his past and his memories. There are two contradictory statements here.

Sweeping the cottage that almost holds his parents presence in them is like ridding himself of their memories, and he evidently does not wish this. But “polishing” his “skull” is obviously a good thing; it is releasing the dirt that has clogged his mind. Although it is Chikako and not Kikuji who is doing the cleaning, he doesn’t seem to have taken this into consideration; it doesn’t matter who is doing it, it still has the same effect on him. But Kikuji seems to be torn between deciding what he wants. This confusion keeps surfacing at intervals just when the reader gets the feeling that Kikuji has overcome his indecision.

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He rightly describes himself as “weak and quivering” by letting Chikako take advantage of him. More meaningful lines in which Kikuji takes a closer look at himself include- “The dirtiness was not only in Chikako .. It was in Kikuji too.” Kikuji’s acceptance of his father’s actions has presented a great problem to him. Everything is happening exactly as he feared. Everything was all right as long as refused to acknowledge his past and avoided anything to do with it and kept it simply in his head. Now that it has been physically let loose in the form of Mrs. Ota, Fumiko and Chikako it has become a grave threat to his independence “He could see his father ..

The figure of his father became the figure of Kikuji himself.” However, he has not yet lost his new kindness towards Mrs. Ota, and to her self-reproaching cry of “The things I do!” (on the fateful night before her suicide) he answers gently “But I’m grateful to you” instead of heartlessly agreeing as he would probably have done originally. His anger at being likened to his father has not left him though, and understanding Mrs. Ota’s actions as she falls on him in a faint, he furiously questions her- “‘Can’t you see the difference between my father and me?'” He again makes clear her role in bringing him to affirm his history- ” .. the truth is that you’ve washed my whole past for me.” He uses the word “washed” again referring to the symbol of water as Mrs. Ota, but more importantly it pertains to the purification of it.

She has “washed” his past clean. She is no longer presents the dirty aspect of it, this is instead blamed solely on Chikako- “All the poison from the old days is concentrated in that woman.” With the suicide of Mrs. Ota, Fumiko takes over her role as reformer, although indirectly. Mrs. Ota death takes a great toll on Kikuji making him “unable to sleep” and forcing him to take “sedatives with sak (traditional Japanese drink).” He apologizes to her in his thoughts and “love flowed into the apology to coddle and mollify the guilt.” His actions here are pointedly in contrast to his original reaction when he first met her with intense dislike and scorn, questioning her place in society.

As Fumiko (unknowingly?) copies her mother’s actions and falls across Kikuji’s lap, he realizes the eerie cycle is repeating itself once again, but feels no revulsion. Instead he seems even relieved that it is a way for them to share their grief and give it a way out. They each try harder than the other to take the blame of Mrs. Ota’s death (Kikuji- “I made her die” Fumiko- “it was I even more”). Fumiko can be excused for such behaviour, she is too much like her mother, but this is hardly characteristic of the spiteful Kikuji who was introduced at the beginning of “Thousand Cranes.” Their similar experiences give them both comfort and pain from the other- “He and Fumiko .. the pair of Raku bowls deepened the sorrow they had in common.” They are symbolised as the “Raku bowls,” a “pair” which together face their grief.

Kikuji longs for Mrs. Ota – even though she too is now completely a part of his past – and even thinks that he is “falling in love” with her, to the point of “intoxication” especially “now that she was dead.” And it is because of Fumiko that he gets this thought, suggesting that it is actually Fumiko who he has these feelings for. Chikako’s attempt to disgrace Mrs. Ota further by indirectly calling her a “devil” is met with hostility and immediately moves away from her. Yet in another of his mood swings, he considers himself a “criminal” for his craving for Mrs.

Ota. Does he now think of her as so dishonorable? He tells himself that the only way to save himself is to stop these thoughts- “He felt he could not be saved unless he fled those moments.” Is he back to his old vindictive self? Is he no longer “grateful” to her for her part in bringing him to terms with his past? What happened to all the kindness, the gentleness, the forgiveness? The last question can be answered by looking at the way he is now with Fumiko. All of it seems to have flowed from the direction of Mrs. Ota to Fumiko. This is soon confirmed- “(His) guilt seemed to disappear when he heard the daughter’s voice.

Did it make him feel that the mother was still living?” When Fumiko leaves and fails to return, making Kikuji realize that she too had probably committed suicide, Kikuji is in disbelief. He credits her for everything that he has understood about his past and improved in- “There was no reason for Fumiko to die, Fumiko who had brought him to life.” The above sentence shows the level of appreciation and gratitude Kikuji had for Fumiko. She “brought him to life!” What greater gift can there be? She has helped him so much, that he feels like she raised him from the dead! This one line proves my theory that Fumiko is to be given more credit than Mrs. Ota for making Kikuji the person he is at the end. But it was Mrs. Ota who started off this chain of events and it would have not been possible without her.

Kikuji is an extremely unpredictable character, from his entrance at the start to his changed identity at the end. Many times throughout the novel he leads the reader to a point where they begin to feel safe about his thoughts before erratically altering his position again. However, these inconsistencies make him all the more interesting and worthwhile as a character. His radical transformation in attitude in the cases of Mrs. Ota and Fumiko in a matter of pages leave us wondering and desperately trying to understand this complete alteration. Although Kawabata eventually takes pity on the reader and feeds us a few reasons why Fumiko and Kikuji become close (their common experiences), we are forever left in the dark about the pivotal point in the story, the intimate encounter between Mrs.

Ota and Kikuji. Why they did it and how they got together is never explained and we are left to speculate. Kikuji’s slow personal reformation of character is easy to keep track of however, and the main sections where he changes for the better- Fumiko’s first visit at his house; Mrs. Ota’s final visit in the night; news of her suicide the next day; his visit to Fumiko; and his realization of her evident suicide, are easy to pinpoint. It is becomes very obvious that because of Mrs. Ota and Fumiko, Kikuji appears willing to deal with his past, but becomes alarmed and quickly flustered with all the problems that arise as his confronts his history. His method of dealing with this starts off as he begins throwing the blame in the direction of others; Mrs.

Ota the main whipping post for his frustration, but soon realizes that he has the sole responsibility for his actions. Here he begins to evolve into a much more agreeable character although he has the occasional lapses, refusing to be likened to his father even though I believe it was his own fault that he acted like his father. His constant spiteful behaviour towards Chikako can be excused, because she never made him happy, was never a friend to him, and is not presented as a likable character, being more dictatorial and sly. His hatred towards this woman alone to the end does not reflect a desire to avoid anyone from his past as he did before, but is based more on personal dislike for Chikako herself and not general dislike, as was the case at the start. Kikuji has changed to accept and even have a few pleasant memories about his past because of his experiences with Mrs.

Ota and Fumiko. I believe there is enough evidence to conclude that Kikuji is indeed a reformed character at the end, with an assorted number of improved qualities, namely humility and compassion, which were pointedly missing when Kikuji made his entrance. But “Thousand Cranes” is a very complicated story with so many interwoven layers of secrets that it may be almost impossible to discover all the emotions and feelings that Kawabata had in mind when he wrote it. A very challenging read. Bibliography Kawabata, Y., Thousand Cranes.


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