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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The early works of Kawabata Yasunari Matson, Gary James


A careful study of the literary career of Kawabata Yasunari yields an interesting supposition on the creative rhythm of the author. In a cyclical fashion of fascinating regularity, Kawabata wrote and had published most of his best works in approximate five-year periods beginning either with the first year of a new decade or the year preceding the new decade. The only exception comes with the years from 1939 to 1945 in which little was written or published; this is hardly surprising since they were the years of the Second World War. All of his best works were published between his twenties and sixties. Eliminating the war years, we are left with four five-year periods. These four five-year periods are like the four seasons of the natural cycle. They coincide with the four seasons of the man's creative life, and the tone of the works matches these seasonal changes: in spring, the youthful traveler of "Izu no odoriko" ("The Izu Dancer," 1926); in summer, the ghosts of "Jojoka" ("Lyric Poem," 1932); in autumn, the aging man setting out to view the maples of fall of Yama no oto (The Sound of the Mountain, 1949-54); in winter, the fantasies of the old man of Nemureru bilo (House of the Sleeping Beauties, 1960-61). The purpose of this thesis is to study the springtime of Kawabata1s writings. The early works leading up to Kawabata's first masterpiece, "Izu no odoriko," have hitherto been largely neglected by critics and scholars of Japanese literature. Among the few studies already done on these early works, most have been biographically oriented. This thesis departs from this trend to take a critical approach to the analysis of the works. The thesis focuses on the areas of style, themes, motifs and images in Kawabata1s early works. To give broader meaning to the analysis of the works, aspects of traditional Japanese culture, particularly the Japanese lyrical tradition and Buddhist and Shinto thinking and symbolism, have been introduced into the thesis. Also, comparisons are made with Western literature in the areas of style, imagery, and symbolism. A number of general conclusions are reached on these early works. One can trace the origins of Kawabata's lyrical style back to Japan's earliest poetry. The style can be further identified with that of the haiku poet and writer of travel diaries Matsuo Basho. On a universal level, the style corresponds to that found in the Western lyrical novel. Buddhist and Shinto thinking and symbolism can be seen as having provided Kawabata with thematic and symbolic material for his works. One especially significant connection with Shinto is the use Kawabata makes of water to symbolize purification. One other feature singled out is the role of the "maternal" virgin.

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