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Yasunari Kawabata: "A Sunny Place" and "Canaries"
March 2, 2012
6:19 pm
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I haven't been able to upload much of my writing to the forum lately because I have been busy working on stuff for school. This is a thesis I wrote for a literature class just recently. I found very little information regarding the two short stories I wrote about  so maybe this can help someone else in the future. I posted the two stories in the published review section in this thread if you want to read the stories first. Each one is under two pages in lenth.  All comments are welcome.

 

Yasunari Kawabata: "A Sunny Place" and "Canaries"

It is undeniable that interpersonal relations are the core of the human experience. These relationships we experience with family, friends, lovers, neighbors, coworkers, and others, deeply impact our growth and development as individuals and societies. Relationships can be the source of both our greatest pleasures and pains because they are often engulfed in love and passion. Furthermore, interpersonal relations are essential to the survival of the humans on the fundamental level of procreation, and in terms of human development. An analysis of the similar and contrasting emotions expressed by Yasunari Kawabata in the short stories “A Sunny Place” and Canaries”, suggests that Kawabata thought these interpersonal relations are at the heart of the human experience and saw them as the driving force of our lives. In his literature, he shows that these past experiences are directly connected to the way we interpret and interact with the present world. My analysis of the stories “A Sunny Place” and “Canaries”, two of Kawabata’s earliest works explores the young writers mind through the significance of the stories: characters, settings, plots, themes, imagery, and symbolism.

Yasunari Kawabata was a Japanese novel and short story writer who lived from 1899-1970. In 1968, He was the first Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was awarded the Nobel Prize "for his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind" (nobelprize.org). His death in 1970 is considered a suicide by most; however, from what I have read this has never been officially proven. Kawabata is an influential author on a global level. His childhood was filled with tragedy; both of his parents died before he was four years old and the rest of his family also succumb to sicknesses by the time he reached the young age of 15. Kawabata’s work is clearly influenced by the impact these events had on his life. His writing focuses on the importance and significance interpersonal relations, one where beauty and tragedy seem to go hand and hand.

 The story “A Sunny Place” starts out with the author talking about meeting a girl while at the beach. It is clear that the author and the girl haven’t known each other for long. It is also evident that the author and girl like each other more than friends. In the story, the author stares at the girl until she notices and hides her face which causes the author to feel as though he has offended her or done something wrong. The author then explains he has a habit of staring at others faces. He delves further into thought and questions if this habit, a habit he despises, is one that may have been brought on by living with strangers and constantly trying to read them through physical expressions after his parents died. This question stirs up more memories of living alone with his blind grandfather. The author states:

“My grandfather was blind. For years he sat in the same room, in the same spot, facing the east with a long charcoal brazier in front of him. Occasionally he would turn his head to the south, but he never faced the north. Once I became aware of my grandfather’s habit of turning to face only one direction, I became terribly concerned. Sometimes I would sit for a long time in front of my grandfather staring into his face” (Kawabata 4).

This memory develops into the author having a realization that this habit was formed from his own accord. Afterward, he expresses a sense of joy because he feels he can rid himself of it for the girl’s sake. The girl then tells the author that he may stare at her and she is okay with it because she thinks her beautiful face grows less beautiful each day as she ages. At the end of the story, the author wants to go out the sunny place on the beach he sees with both the memory of his grandfather and of the girl.

In the story “A Sunny Place” the characters are: the author, the girl, the grandfather, and the parents. Much is expressed about the author through his own thoughts, as well as through his interactions with the girl. The girl and the sight of a sunny area on the beach set the story into motion. The author begins to unravel himself after he notices his bad habit of staring at people too long and attempts to trace the habits origins. I felt the author expressed a greater level of pain when the he talks about his grandfather than dead parents. Like he had a closer relationship with his grandfather, although, I believe he deeply misses them all. The author cared and worried for his blind grandfather. He analyzes his grandfather’s actions and wants something more for him. I felt the girl brings the author hope and he wants to improve himself for her. Although, the end adds something extra because even though the author expresses hope with and enjoys the experience with the girl, there is also a sense that he thinks it will not last, much like the relationship with his grandfather. The author states “I wanted to go out to the sunny place on the beach, carrying with me the memory of the girl and my grandfather” (Kawabata 5). I thought this was significant, like he was saying good times aren’t meant to last, but memories can live with us forever.

I interpreted “A Sunny Place” as a story of self-discovery brought on by new experiences. It is also one of change, how times change, and how people change due to our relationships. Moreover, the story is a stark reminder that things are not always as they seem, like the way the author realizes his bad habit of staring was brought on by caring for his grandfather. The imagery in this story is clean, clear, and precise all at once. I felt it was amazing how the author is able to paint such a detailed picture of such complex emotions throughout his experience of self-discovery. The story moves through time and thought seamlessly. I feel this slightly more than two page story captures the true nature of the way people experience the world, which is through there interactions with others. Given the details I know about Kawabata’s life, I believe it is likely that “A Sunny Place” was written based on events that occurred in his lifetime.

The short story “Canaries” is written in letter form. The letter is from the author addressed to a madam. The letter starts out "I must break my promise and write a letter to you just one more time" (Kawabata 22). The letter then proceeds to detail how the author received the canaries from madam as a gift to serve as a reminder of their relationship. The author’s wife cared for the canaries until she died. It is evident that the author and madam had some sort of relationship while the author was married. He states: "you were the one who said it, weren't you? You have a wife and I have a husband. Let's stop seeing each other"(Kawabata 22). The author then details the different ways he thought of getting rid of the birds since he does not seem to wish to care for them. He thinks of: selling them back to the store, setting them free, giving them back to madam, and killing them. The letter ends with the question: "madam, it's all right, isn't it, if I kill the canaries and bury them in my wife's grave?"(Kawabata 23).

The characters in “Canaries” include: the author, madam, the author’s dead wife, and the canaries. Since the story is written as a letter it is completely expressed through the author’s perspective. The canaries are highly significant in regards to the plot. In just the first few sentences the reader is immediately aware that madam was the author’s mistress at one point in the not so distant past, and the canaries are meant to keep the memory of the authors and madams relationship alive until they die. The author quotes something that madam said to him when she gave the caries to him, “Someday the canaries will die. And, when the time comes that the memories between us must die, let them die"(Kawabata 22). I felt that even while madam talks about the canaries dying and their relationship with it, she is also possibly displaying a sense of hope that maybe before the canaries die they could do something to renew it. The author expresses remorse and regret that he cared for another woman while his wife was alive throughout the letter, and I felt he thought the canaries are the only thing left alive of his wife. This in turn makes him feel worse thus giving him a motive to kill the birds. He states: "I want to have the canaries follow her in death. Keeping my memories of you alive was not the only thing my wife did" (Kawabata 23).

I interpreted “Canaries” as edgy and straight to the point. It was a journey through one man’s experiences with love, regret, and tragedy. The author of the letter is clearly disturbed about his current situation and is experiencing the “complex sorrows of a widower” (LA Times). However, I believe it is unclear to both the author himself and the reader whether he wants madam to have sorrow for him or to try to help him. The story paints a clear picture of a broken man that is tormented by his previous actions in a distilled page and a half. Moreover, I believe the multifaceted relationship between the author, madam, the wife, and the canaries is meant to symbolize that all humans make mistakes and that sometimes we don’t know what we have until it’s too late.

In conclusion, I feel by comparing and contrasting the focuses and meanings of the short stories “A Sunny Place” and “canaries” suggests that Kawabata thought these interpersonal relations are at the heart of the human experience and saw them as the driving force of our lives. These stories exhibit openly and subtly how past relationships we have experienced have a lasting effect on us, and are directly connected to the way we interpret and interact with the present world. The most prominent viewpoints emphasized in these two stories are that of beauty and tragedy which displays how our interpersonal relationships have a deep impact on our development, perspectives, demeanor, and lives. This in turn brings us full circle back to the fact that it is undeniable that interpersonal relations are the core of the human experience.

 

Work Citied

 

Kawabata, Yasunari. Palm of the Hand Stories. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006. Print.

"The Nobel Prize in Literature 1968". Nobelprize.org. 27 Feb 2012 http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1968/

"Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata Translated by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman." Latimes.com. LA Times, 29 July 1990. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://articles.latimes.com/1990-07-29/books/bk-1281_1_human-heart&gt;.

Perfection; my greatest strength and weakness.
August 14, 2012
3:28 am
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Wow this has gotten a lot of views, hopefully it did help someone in their research :)  

Just to let you guy/girls know I passed this in for a college lit class, I forget the exact level now but I got a B+ for a grade so if you want that A your gonna have to do a little better smirk

Perfection; my greatest strength and weakness.

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