Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Jennifer Henry: Throughout The Silent Cry, Oe seems to portray the narrator as a masochistic individual, who "indulges" in pain and torture, such as the distressing memories of his friend's suicide and the daily realities of living with an alcoholic wife. His friend, says Mitsu, had "long been seeking masochistic experiences" and used to frequent an "establishment where some ferocious female catered to masochists."
Mitsu's wife, "with squalid breath, laden with the damp fumes of alcohol," says she fears that he might end his life in a similar, horrifying manner as his friend did. "[S]upposing he did have some sexual perversion" she adds, "there wouldn't be any need for me to be afraid for you, would there?" Preoccupied with so many thoughts that are painful to him, Mitsu keeps playing them in his mind and would not give himself any peace.
Kevin Perkins: Oe's handling of such issues as suicide in The Silent Cry delivers a great jolt to the reader. It is not a pretty picture that he intends on portraying in this book, which is imbued with domestic problems and their absurdities. Instead, he attempts to shock Japanese readers out of complacency.
Japan has a history of romantic perception of suicide, quite different from the stigma attached to it in the West. While traditional and even modern Japanese literature has romanticized and even glorified suicide, Oe takes a contrasting approach.
The image of the pathetic hanging corpse stays with Mitsu, both attracting and repelling him. This is important in the narrator's search for truth. He contemplates suicide at different points in his life as a way of dealing with his personal problems. Perhaps the image serves to shock the narrator out of his self-pitying gloom, and compels him to search for his "thatched hut," which symbolizes a new start in a stagnant life.
Daniel Jacobs: Oe is extremely graphic, but in an intellectual and philosophical manner in his description of almost everything. He refers often to death, masturbation, as well as similar taboo subjects. For example, Mitsu depicts, without sympathy, his friend's "crimson- headed corpse," with his "semen drying on its thighs . . . decomposing on an army style cot." As well, Oe describes Mitsu's wife as having eyelids "as dirty as fingernails," once again setting a tone that would make many readers cringe.
Maria Nadeau: Oe's handling of grotesque details leaves the reader with a lot to think about. My first reaction is that the novel is disgusting. The suicide is what has affected me the most, mainly the part about the cucumber. But these things happen in real life, so why shouldn't the author be able to write about it.
The part I really don't like is how the narrator calls his institutionalized child an "idiot." Having a mentally challenged child is not the end of the world, and he should not be so ashamed. The boy is modelled on Oe's own developmentally handicapped son, Hikari, who has turned out to be a successful music composer.
The one part of the novel I feel Oe handles very well is Mitsu's alcoholic wife. She actually admits to being an alcoholic. "On the contrary, it's the very ability to regulate the intoxication voluntarily that makes me an alcoholic." By the end of the novel she decides to become sober. This is a realistic problem in every culture.
May Yuen: Oe does not sweeten details that readers may find sickening. The cucumber reference is particularly shocking. The narrator is surrounded by people who have or are going through negative experiences. He himself is blinded in one eye, his wife is an alcoholic, his brother Takashi is infected with venereal disease, and their sister committed suicide as their friend did later.
Sarah Tan: The suicide of Mitsu's friend has an ironic effect on me because the face of the corpse is covered with crimson paint. The red color in Chinese culture is a symbol of joy, signifying birth. The mother of a newborn baby, for example, usually gives eggs, painted red, to her friends and relatives.
Kevin Perkins: Oe is not promoting suicide or glorifying it as others have done before him. He is suggesting that it takes hard work to deal with one's problems and that this is a better method than violence, suicide, or denial.
While Oe has been criticized for speaking out about Japan's problems, in The silent Cry he seems to be offering some positive advice for dealing with them. His use of shocking imagery only helps to hammer the point home to a readership that needs sensationalism to attract it.
Michael Kociuba: The Silent Cry is an interesting novel. The story in the beginning is dark and gloomy, with Mitsu thinking about his friend's suicide. His child is mentally retarded and placed in an institute, and everything around him falls apart. Trapped in a major slump, the narrator leaves his job to think about his life.
A slow healing process begins as Mitsu and his wife return with his brother to their hometown. It is again interesting to see that people in that town are also suffering hardships. A family friend has a disorder, which makes her eat every hour. As one can imagine, she is considered to be the fattest woman in Japan. Ironically, the author describes her gross physical features as if they were hallmarks of beauty.
Finally Mitsu climbs out of his slump at the end of the novel. His brother is dead, his wife is going to have his brother's unborn child, and he himself attempts to start a new life.
Han Ki: The two brothers live in two separate worlds, but in the end they switch roles. Mitsu lives in the real world, believing only what he has seen and personally experienced. Mitsu's opinion of his great grandfather's brother is based only on what he has personally heard. Takashi lives in an imaginary world, and his perception of his great grandfather's brother is blown out of proportions. Mitsu always tries to avoid his problems; for example, he leaves his job as an English professor after the strange suicide of his friend. The narrator is also constantly troubled by his awareness of his wife's drinking problem and his inability to help her deal with it. Takashi, by contrast, could set aside all his problems and focus on his impossible goal because he lives in a dream world where anything is possible.
However, with the discovery of the cellar, the truth about their great grandfather's brother is revealed. Takashi was after all not a dreamer, and may have lived a life that is more realistic than that of Mitsu. At least Takashi lives his life with a purpose. This discovery leads Mitsu to re-evaluate his experiences. Awaiting the birth of a baby, Mitsu and his wife decide to start all over again in Africa, and make preparations for a new job there. We are left with a feeling of hope for the couple.
Oe, Kenzaburo. The Silent Cry. Trans. John Bester. London: Serpent's Tail, 1988 .
Copyright © 1996 by the authors. Information from this article should be attributed to the authors.