UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Alienation, trains and the journey of life in four modern Japanese novels Price, Ann Mereryd


This thesis examines the theme of alienation along with the train motif in the life journeys of the protagonists in four modern Japanese novels. Each chapter is devoted to an individual novel and explores its hero's feelings of socio-psychological estrangement on personal and interpersonal levels as well as the role of the train journey which serves to arouse, create or alleviate such feelings. Chapter One deals with Sanshiro (Sanshiro. 1908) by Natsume Soseki and follows the hero on his long train journey from backward Kyushu to progressive Tokyo. The people he meets on the train foreshadow the feelings of uneasiness and estrangement he will encounter in the capital. For Sanshiro, the noisy, crowded streetcars initially represent the "real world," constantly reminding him of his alienation from it. Once over his culture shock the hero's sense of not belonging shifts to his relationships with his friends. Gradually he begins to feel more comfortable with himself and the world around him. Chapter Two examines A Dark Night's Passing (An'ya Koro, 1921-37) by Shiga Naoya. In his search to resolve feelings of unacceptability arising from his childhood experiences, Kensaku takes a series of journeys, many by train, "backward" in time. The train thus serves as an agent which can transcend the barriers of both time and space, separating or reuniting people and creating or breaking down distances between places. It can arouse feelings of happiness, excitement, sadness or loneliness in its passengers or simply provide him with a place to relax and dream about a brighter future. Chapter Three focuses on Snow Country (Yukiguni. 1934-1947) by Kawabata Yasunari. Shimamura's purpose in visiting the snow country is two-fold -- he both desires to escape from and needs to confront the reality of the wasted effort in his life and resulting sense of alienation from humanity. The train complies. As it brings him into this region of Japan it completely loses any connection with reality, creating a void in which weirdly beautiful apparitions float up before our hero's very eyes. Once in this fantasy land our hero is taught to see his own coldness and how to become more human by two beautiful women. It is then left up to Shimamura to put what he has learned into action when he returns to Tokyo by the train which, heading away from the snow country, takes on very real qualities. The final chapter examines The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuii. 1956) by Mishima Yukio. This novel deals with Mizoguchi, a most frightening character whose mixed-up views of both himself and the world are but a thin disguise for insanity. The hero suffers terribly from the resulting feelings of not belonging as well as a great inferiority complex. The situation is complicated by his strange love-hate relationship with the Golden Temple to which he attributes human qualities. The train in this novel serves as the symbolic vehicle which transports the hero back and forth between the region of his birth and what he calls "the station of death" where he will eventually destroy both the temple and the hated half of his personality. In the conclusion the relevance of alienation, trains and the journey of life in modern Japanese literature are discussed.

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