Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 3, June-August, 1997
"A Letter from a Bereaved Father," for example, ends with the despair of a father who has lost his two sons over a cliff. "I, too, am dead," he proclaims. "Just as they fell upon those rocks I saw, still stained with their blood, I, leaning forward and grasping both sides of the wheelchair, come falling after them" (44). One of his two sons is Michio, who becomes paralyzed in an accident. Feeling alienated from regular human activities, he cannot live with his plight or adapt himself to the sudden change and, as a result, has lost a sense of belonging.
When Michio decides to commit suicide, he asks his mentally retarded brother, Musan, to join him, by pushing his wheelchair off a cliff and jumping along with it. As Musan cannot analyze the situation for himself, it is Michio who decides for him that his life is not worth living. The tragic scene reminds us of Sachiko drowning her daughters' kittens in a river and a mother submerging her baby under water in a canal in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel A Pale View of Hills. The victims are the kittens and the baby who have no control over their lives. This type of death is murder although Michio and the mother intend to spare the victims of the hardship and pain that would inevitably follow them.
"A Letter from a Bereaved Father," translated by Margaret Mitsutani, is an excerpt from Oe's 1989 novel An Echo of Heaven (Jinsei no shinseki). In this excerpt, the boys' mother reads the letter from her ex-husband, who recounts the tragedy. "This story persuades the Japanese to support and not condemn the disabled," says Michael Kociuba, a writer-editor for our journal. "The brothers take their own lives in the last place they were ever happy. Although the excerpt ends on a dark note, it embarks the protagonist on her road to spiritual redemption. She is coming to grips with her children's death, and takes up the challenge to roll with the punches that life often throws." It is possible that Oe's incredibly graphic images of death serve to help him deal with his pain caused by the birth of his brain- injured son. These grotesque pictures that he paints allow him to express his feelings of grief although they may make the reader cringe. The reality is that life has a dark side, and for the author, these images are perhaps a way of dealing with it.
Oe, Kenzaburo. "A Letter from a Bereaved Father." Ed. by Ted Goossen and Karen Mulhallen, et. al. ed. Descant/Japan, 26, no. 2 (Summer, 1995).
Oe, Kenzaburo. The Silent Cry. Trans. John Bester. London: Serpent's Tail, 1988 .
Illustration by Billy Lo