Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wild Goose (Mori Ōgai)

" The story is narrated by a friend and fellow student of the hero, Okada. It introduces us to three quite distinct though interrelated worlds of the Tokyo in the 1870s and 1880s. First is that of the students in the Tokyo University Medical Department - a world of young men living in cramped student boardinghouses, combing the secondhand bookstores for something to read, practicing jujitsu etc . The second world is that glimpsed through the figures of the moneylender Suezo and the heroine's father, the bumbling and unlucky candy seller. This is the complex world of plebeian Tokyo, where shrewdness and native wit rather than birth and education are what advance one's lot.  Third of the three worlds is the wholly feminine one inhabited by Otama, the young woman who becomes Suezo's mistress; Suezo's wife Otsune; the sewing teacher and her pupils; and the maids. "     
- Taken from the introduction translated by Burton Watson.
As much as I hate limiting my options, I tend to shy away from Asian Literature, particularly East Asian,  with Japanese Literature as the exception.

Otama had been living alone with her father since the death of her mother. Otama eventually agreed to be Suezo's mistress because of her obedient nature and the benefits that such an arrangement would bring to her father when things got harder for them. It was until later that Otama learned that she was a mistress of a despised moneylender. 
" In her mortification there was very little hatred for the world or for people. If one were to ask exactly what in fact she resented, one would have to answer that it was her own fate. Through no fault of her own she was made to suffer persecution, and this was what she found so painful. When she was deceived and abandoned by the police officer, she had felt this mortification, and recently, when she realized that she must become a mistress, she experienced it again. Now, she learned that she was not only a mistress but the mistress of a despised moneylender, and her despair, which had been ground smooth between the teeth of time and washed of its color in the waters of resignation, assumed once more in her heart its stark outline.
" In her attitude toward Suezo she became increasingly warm as her heart grew increasingly distant. She no longer felt grateful for his favors or indebted to him, nor could she feel pity for him that this was so. It seemed to her that, for all her lack of fine upbringing and education, she was wasted on such a person. Among the people passing by her window, she began to wonder, was there not some trustworthy young man who would rescue her from her present predicament? It was when she first became aware of imaginings of this nature that she started in surprise."
She started to fantasize about Okada who passed outside her window. Although she knew perfectly well that when Okada started raising his cap in greeting one day, the action was done with no studied intention, Okada didn't mind. After their encounter over the snake, she was so overwhelmed with feelings that she wanted him for her own, more than an object of desire that she was keenly looking out for opportunities to approach Okada. Nothing happened as the circumstances had kept Okada and Otama apart before Okada left to study abroad. The character that has my most sympathy nevertheless is Suezo's wife, Otsune whose husband wouldn't even buy her and the children new clothes. Thankfully more and more women are becoming financially independent in this era. 
" Well then, what should I do? When I came home this morning,  I wanted to have it out with him as soon as possible. But suppose he had been there - what would I have said? Whatever I said, he would have come out with some vague, incomprehensible answer, the way he always does. And he would twist things around and in the end make fool of me. He's too cleaver a talker - whenever we argue, I always lose. Should I just keep quiet then? But if I do, what will happen? As long as that woman is around, he doesn't care what becomes of me! What should I do? What should I do? "
In all, I thought this is a masterpiece. It doesn't bother me that the romance between Otama and Okada never comes about in the story. I am especially amazed at how detailed the writer explored the emotional and mental lives of the female.
" For all women, there are things they regard as desirable but which they do not feel compelled to pursue. Such objects - a watch, a ring, displayed in the window of a store - they will invariably stop to look at as they pass. They do not go purposely to the store to see them, but, happening along on some other errand, they will nevertheless pause for a moment of inspection. Their desire to possess the object, and their resignation to the fact that they can never afford to do so, combine to produce not distress but rather a subtle, sweet sensation of grief that women look on as a kind of joy.  
The situation is quite different, however, when a woman makes up her mind to possess a thing. The emotion then is one of intense anguish. She thinks of the object until she can think of nothing else. Even if she learned that in a few days it would come easily into her hands, she could not bear to wait. Heedless of heat or cold, darkness or storm, she will lay her impulsive plans for the acquisition.
I have been impatient about many things in life and also, guys I seriously lay my eyes on. Many nights I spent on scheming just so I could get what I want step by step. I also recall being the aggressor in most of the short-lived relationships I have been in. Not that I ever had any regrets, I am just hoping to be more composed from now on :P


  1. Why would you shy away from Asian lit Ting? They are my favourites and riches in tale.

    You are a little dangerous man-eater aren't you? :)

  2. Hi Jo :) I suppose its because I am living in Asia and Asian literature (okay, Chinese literature to be more specific) doesn't seem as intriguing as.. lets say European literature due to the familiarity. But limiting is bad though.

    Haha hated waiting around for the guys I crushed on to call and take me out. Things are changing lol