Though Japan is the prototype of a culture in which shame is salient, both brothers in Nobel Prize-winner Ôe Kenzaburo’s (1967) The Silent Cry (Man’en gan’nen no futtobōru) operate out of guilt – albeit of different kinds: Mitsu suffers under disabling generalized existential guilt while Takashi maniacally acts out his guilt for incest with a retarded sister who later killed herself.
Does this evidence a generational shift from the work of the Dazai Osamu, Tanizaki Jun’ichrô on aberrant desires and acts)? Probably not: probably just a difference in temperament. I had some trouble staying with Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles, and some trouble getting started on Cry (in contrast to enjoying reading Tsugaru and voraciously consuming many Dazai short stories). Dazai was deeply abashed (or hurt?) that his first wife had had sexual experiences before him. In Nettles Kaname pushes his wife to another man, and in The Silent Cry Mitsu is indifferent to his wife taking up with his brother Takashi—at least he refuses to show any feeling when he is told of it.
Mitsu’s relentless undercutting of Takashi’s pretenses as a revolutionary are part of a much longer-running fratricidal dynamic that reignites when both return to their rural home village (Mitsu from Tokyo, Takashi from the US).
Takashi becomes a figure in the local legend of rebellions, and, after Takashi shoots himself, Mitsu finds that the history of his family’s role in the 1860 and 1871 rebellions differs from his suppositions and the romantic vision of the radical past Takashi maintained.
The novel is not lacking in plot, though the charge “types rather than characters” can be sustained against it. Dazai was able to go home again and find reconciliation to a far greater extent than the brothers in Silent Cry, and embracing tradition seems a viable alternative to the modern world for Kaname (albeit that of Osaka, not rural Japan).
Mitsu’s wife has dried out during her time with Takashi and wants to bear his child and take her retarded child by Mitsu out of the institution in which he was placed. Takashi’s mobilization against a successful Korean (the “Emperor” of supermarkets) seems to me to symbolize fascism’s xenophobia/racism, and Mitsu seems to find that aspect particularly repellent, but once he sees it as play-acting (like Mishima’s private military?) he is less bothered by it (though still contemptuous of it). I find it difficult to get into Oe fiction, not just this early novel.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray