Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 3, June-August, 1997
In the novel The Silent Cry, Oe writes about a man trying to pull his life together after the death of his close friend and the birth of a deformed child, described as "the amputated growth" and someone "being cooked in some bubbling broth." While Oe is considering the option of surgery for his son, he began the novel A Personal Matter, in which the father, Bird, has to decide if he should allow the newborn to die by feeding it with diluted milk and sugar water, as suggested by the doctors. They giggle nervously over such an abnormal-looking infant and describe the child as "the goods." Instead, Bird likens the baby to a romantic poet--Apollinaire-- "with his head in bandages." At first, Bird worries that the child will become a "monstrous vegetable baby" who will "ride on the backs" of his parents for the rest of their lives. During one hospital visit, Bird sees it lying on its back, with its head weighted backwards as if by an anchor, and rubbing the backs of his ears as if they itched. Bird soon develops a habit of imitating this posture, head back, rubbing his ears in sympathy with the baby. Eventually, he decides to allow the child to live and gives his own blood to the child during surgery.
In the short story "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness," the child emerges with a distinct identity and a name--Mori ("forest" in Latin), which means idiocy and death to his anonymous father, known as the fat man. He gives his son the nickname Eeyore instead, after the "misanthropic" donkey from "Winnie the Pooh" to create an irrevocable barrier between the child and society. The father assumes the role of a passive victim and drops out of society. The routine of biking daily to a restaurant for pork noodles and Pepsi-Cola is intended to introduce Eeyor to the pleasure of eating. What it does provide the father is a type of ritual outside of time and society, so common in Oe's fiction.
The fat man has imagined an intimate relationship between himself and his son. By touching hands, the father thinks he can feel his son's pain. He also believes that his sensibility to Eeyore's suffering will flow through their joined hands and help calm his son's blind panic. Finally the fat man gives up his wishful thinking. He allows his wife to get glasses for Eeyore and enroll him in an institution. Once the fat man has "found himself free," he succumbs to a "miserable loneliness," as if his son had lost his voice.
The story "Agwee the Sky Monster" takes a different approach to conveying images of the disabled son. In this instance, the father has relented and allowed his son to be killed rather than have the operation. He later discovers that the brain hernia (present in each story) is actually a benign tumor. The sense of guilt leads him to spend the last days on earth gathering memories for his ghost-son Agwee, who descends from the sky to collect them for a heavenly record. The image of the dead baby hence represents a chance for redemption for the father.
Through the images of disabled children, the author expresses his hope for the Japanese people in difficult situations after Hiroshima. The plight is similar to that of all the father characters in his fiction. Now Hikari has "found his own voice" through music, and Oe announced in 1995 that he has no further reason to write.
Bibliography Oe, Kenzaburo. The Silent Cry. Trans. John Bester. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1974.
Oe, Kenzaburo. A Personal Matter. Trans. John Nathan. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1968.
Oe, Kenzaburo. "If music were not to exist." Addendum (April, 1993): n. page. Online. Internet. 3 April, 1993.
Oe, Kenzaburo. "Agwee the Sky Monster." Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness. Trans. John Nathan. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1977.
Sobsy, Dick. "Hikari Finds His Voice." Produced by Compassionate Health Care Network (CHN) (July, 1995): n. page. Online. Internet. July, 1995.
Tamura. Kumiko. "Commentary on the Music." Addendum (April, 1993): n. page. Online. Internet. 3 April, 1993.
Illustration by Julie Shim