Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (1972)

Study Guide: Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits” (Usagi; 1972)[1]

*To purchase Phyllis Birnbaum’s superb translation of Kanai Mieko’s “Rabbits,” click here.

*To purchase 金井美恵子『兎』, click here.

*To purchase The World Book (2009), Paul McCarthy's superb translations of a collection of Kanai Mieko short stories, click here.

*To purchase Paul McCarthy/Tomoko Aoyama's superb translation of Oh, Tama! (2014; Kurodahan Press), click here.

Kanai Mieko 金井美恵子 (1947–): Kanai Mieko read widely in fiction and poetry from an early age. In 1967, at the young age of twenty, she was runner-up for the Dazai Osamu Prize for Ai no seikatsu (A Life of Love), and the following year she received the Gendaishi Techo Prize for poetry. While maintaining a certain distance from literary circles and journalism, she has built up a world of fiction known for its sensual style. Along with her fiction, her criticism, which showcases her often scathing insights, has a devoted following. (Source: J-Lit Books from Japan)

Study Questions

1. Describe the frame-story structure. Who are the two narrators? What is their relation to one another? Where does the frame story start and end? What is the source of the “vague odor” that follows Narrator 1 wherever she goes?

2. How does the work draw from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871)? What elements/themes from those works does Kanai borrow? In what ways does she alter those elements/themes?

3. Describe the rabbit-girl. Describe her personality, environment, situation, etc.

4. Describe the rabbit-girl’s father and his “unusual tastes” (shikō)?

5. Describe the father and the rabbit-girl’s biweekly ritual. What do the other members of his family think of their strange ritual?

6. What is the nature of the father and the rabbit-girl’s relationship? Is their relationship incestuous? If so, what evidence can you find to support this?

7. What happened to the mother and brother? Why did they disappear? How do the rabbit-girl and her father react to their disappearance? Do they secretly know why they left?

8. Describe the father and daughter’s life together after the mother and brother disappear. What new role does the daughter take on? What pleasures does she begin to derive from murdering, skinning, and preparing the rabbits?

9. Discuss the rabbit-girl’s transformation (from someone who enjoys killing/skinning/cooking rabbits to someone who wishes to become a rabbit). Why the “quest for rabbithood”?

10. Describe the father’s transformation/deterioration.

11. Describe the daughter’s surprise birthday party for her father. What “gift” did she plan to “give him”? What ends up happening? What injury does the daughter sustain?

12. Describe the father’s death face and its effect on the daughter.

13. Describe the daughter’s life after her father’s death. Why does she gouge out the eyes of all the rabbits?

14. What condition is the rabbit-girl in when Narrator 1 meets her “a second time long afterward.” Why has she gouged out her remaining eye?

15. What does the rabbit-girl’s blindness render her capable of seeing? Discuss the significance of these three sentences:

When your eyesight gets weaker, invisible things begins to be visible. The power that makes invisible the things which you could see and that makes visible invisible things develops naturally. I can always see the face of my father in death.

16. Discuss the final scene (in which Narrator 1 crawls into the rabbit-girl’s outfit). What does this suggest about the connection between Narrator 1 and Narrator 2?

I peeled off the white rabbit’s fur which had completely enveloped her body. Then I threw off what I had been wearing and got into her costume. I put on the hood and mask which were by her side, held my breath in the animal odor, and waited for a long time crouching there without moving. A group of blind rabbits gathered about us. She and I, along with the rabbits, made no effort to stir and so we remained in that same spot, absolutely still.

Further Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the violent/sadomasochistic/sexual/incestuous elements in the work.
2. Did the narrator really “come to,” as she says on page 3? Or was the whole thing a dream after blacking out? (Relate your answer to Todorov’s conception of “the fantastic.”)
3. Did the rabbit-girl really exist (in the world of the story)? Or is she the creation of Narrator 1’s imagination?

*Further Reading: For an insightful essay in English on the story, see Mary Knighton’s “Down the Rabbit Hole: In Pursuit of Shōjo Alices, from Lewis Carroll to Kanai Mieko”: http://bit.ly/1lSWKlI

*Artwork by Kaneko Kuniyoshi 金子國義. For more of his work, click here.

[1] Translated by Phyllis Birnbaum (1982).

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