If there is a novel that can be closer to haiku, in terms of deep meanings that can be extracted from descriptions and short ordinary phrases, this would be “Snow Country” – a novel by Yasunari Kawabata that tells the story of love between a man visiting hot springs and a local geisha. This paper analyzes the main characters along with their relation to the main themes of the novel.
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Analyzing the novel, there are several themes covered which in the manner that the author chose to address, are indirectly sensed through the narration. The theme of desperate love is the major theme of the novel which can be sensed not only through the interaction of the characters but also through the general tones in which even the title implies the same direction.
In this theme, all of the three characters, Shimamura, Komako, and Yoko are connected. Shimamura is a middle-aged wealthy man from Tokyo, who is visiting hot spring town to enjoy the scenery and the hot springs where he meets Komako, a geisha from the same town. In analyzing the character of Shimamura from the perspective of the town where the events of the novel took place, he is a stranger, i.e. stranger in social status, mentality, and overall interests, a distinction that is apparent for many big-city residents in small towns. “What are you really thinking, I wonder? That’s why I don’t like Tokyo people.”
Despite the aforementioned distinctions he shares many similarities with other characters in the novel, of which the most related to the novel’s theme is his search for love. Shimamura acknowledges his love for Komako, and feels that there is a bond between them that surpasses the client-geisha relationship; however, his character’s acknowledgment of her status makes this relation destined to failure. The whole love relation of Shimamura and Komako is also shaded with the type of personality of Shimamura himself. His detachment from life sensed in his love for ballet which he never attended, his interest in another girl –Yoko, and his overall irony makes him incapable of delivering his emotions to the full extent. This can be translated as a fear in which he senses something but does not feel it, or is afraid of committing neither to Komako nor Yoko. “How far would that strong, sure touch take him? ….The end of the song released him. Ah, this woman is in love with me- but he was annoyed with himself for the thought.”
The character of Komako is somewhat opposite to Shimamura, in terms of commitment, though she does not think that this love is destined for happiness, she is helplessly in love with him. The character of Komako is unstable herself, her profession although is higher than an ordinary prostitute, it is the same relation based on sex and money, thus a geisha cannot be described as a moral person in general. However, the description of Komako’s character and the reason why she became a geisha is in contrast with Komako’s profession, the fact that accordingly put more emphasis on the theme of desperation and hopelessness.
Komako can be seen as a person who knows her place in life and does not cross the line in their client-geisha-established relationship. However, she can make hints of her feelings when she is desperate and drunk. “Komako lay stretched out on top of him. “‘I said I would come and I’ve come. Haven’t I? I said I’d come and I’ve come, haven’t I?’ Her chest, even her abdomen, rose and fell violently. “‘You’re dead-drunk.’ “‘Haven’t I? I said I’d come and I’ve come, haven’t I?’ ”
Yoko’s character is controversial in some way, as there is a feeling that she was put in the novel, for two purposes, which apart from forming the love triangle, either to show the weaknesses of Shimamura or outline the character of Komako.
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Yoko is in some sense a rival to Komako, because of Shimamura’s attraction to her. She is pure and has a beautiful voice and Shimamura could not decide what the main reason was for his attraction to her, perhaps because she was different from Komako to whom his feelings fluctuated between affection and pity.
“He was conscious of an emptiness that made him see Komako’s life as beautiful but wasted, even though he himself was the object of her love; and yet the woman’s existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin. He pitied her, and pitied himself. He was sure that Yoko’s eyes, for all their innocence, could send a probing light to the heart of these matters, and he somehow felt drawn to her too.”
The vagueness of Shimamura’s character is transferred to other characters in some way, as it is seen that the relations are developed between them, their characters are constantly hesitant in their decisions. That can be seen in the ending of the novel, where further development can only be assumed, with one thing remaining definite. Nothing will bring happiness to the characters other than their separation.
Kawabata, Y. & Seidensticker, E. (1996). Snow country. New York: Vintage Books.