Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 3, June-August, 1997
Benjamin Bacola: I feel almost no sense of excitement or anticipation as I have practically given up expecting anything inspiring to happen in this story. Each character is stuck in some kind of quicksand. Takashi is kicking and struggling the hardest and as a result, he is sinking the fastest, yet in his mind, he believes he is escaping. Mitsu's struggles are mostly internal. He kicks up very little of a physical fuss and so he seems to be sinking more slowly, yet opposite to Taka, in his mind he has already been swallowed up by the sand.
The pain runs too deep. To cry for help would mean that they themselves would have to believe that they are in sinking sand and that their ancestors, whose paths they were following, have been drowned. The two brothers may want to follow this same path to feel the pain their ancestors must have endured. When Mitsu asks Taka about the purpose of starting another uprising, he replies, ". . . there mightn't be any point to it at all. But at least I'll be able to experience as intensely as possible what great-grandfather's younger brother went through spiritually."
Kevin Perkins: 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.
Shelly-Ann Gunness: Amid the gloom and doom, I am intrigued by the grotesque picture about hell, which Mitsu seems to associate with a kind of pleasure. In this place of suffering and everlasting misery, the narrator feels peace. He explains to the priest that the creatures, having grown accustomed to the pain, have found comfort in their chains.
His brother, however, never likes that picure, and is a person who will never be comfortable with suffering. Taka is always on the run from pain. Whether it is traveling to the West or meeting new friends, he escapes from all possible tortures in life.
Jessica Martin: Mitsu's description of the dying plants in their conservatory effectively conveys a sense of repugnance. The image expresses the narrator's feelings toward his "decaying" wife and perhaps himself, as well. The odor reeks from his spouse reminds Mitsu of those plants.
Julie Shim: I am particularly impressed by a scene that depicts the ironic duality of life and death. Mitsu says it is almost a "sacrilege" to support his living wife "with arms contaminated by lifting the body of a dead friend" (10). It seems that a shroud has enveloped his existence. The contact with the deceased might have cast a spell on the narrator, drawing away from the living.
Brenda Lo: I am shocked by the attitude of Mitsu and his wife toward their mentally challenged son. How can parents be ashamed of their child? They should have demonstrated a strong will, so they can be role models for the boy, who is destined to lead a life of hardship. It is the absence of compassion and trust among the family members that bothers me most.
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.
Michael Kociuba: 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.
Megan Donnelly: I am impressed by the passage when Mitsu discovers that his great grandfather's brother was not the unrepentant runaway leader of an unsuccessful unprising as he was presumed to be and that S, Taka's hero, was braver than he had been portrayed. The narrator's sense of guilt accounts for a self-loathing tendency and a propensity to inflict punishment on himself.
Han Ki: 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 .
Illustration by Billy Lo