Monday, June 2, 2014

Study Guide: Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom” (1949)


Study Guide: Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom”[1]

*Sakaguchi Ango 坂口安吾 (1906-1955): Novelist. Born in Niigata, Sakaguchi was one of a group of young Japanese writers to rise to prominence in the years immediately following Japan’s defeat in World War Two. In 1946 he wrote his most famous essay, titled “Darakuron” (“On Decadence”), which examined the role of bushidō during the war. Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.

Study Questions

1. Identify the narrator/point of view. Where is the narrator? In what era is he located? What is his style of narrative? Does he use more “showing” (representation) or “telling” (presentation)? What is his attitude toward the events his is describing?

2. The narrator begins his story by explaining the different attitudes toward cherry blossoms, past and present. Explain these differences.

3. Describe the male protagonist of the story. Describe his occupation, personality, circumstances, intellectual capacity, motivations/desires, etc.

4. Describe the beautiful woman he kidnaps and makes his eighth wife. Describe her personality, looks, worldview/ethics, proclivities/fancies, behavior, motivations/desires, background circumstances, attitude toward husband, etc. How is she different from the other seven wives?

5. Why is the sensation felt by the narrator when standing under the cherry blossoms in full bloom identical to the sensation when in the presence of his eighth wife? Explain.

6. What demands does the woman make to her new husband? Identify and describe each of them.

7. Discuss the power relationship between the man and woman. Who’s “on top”?

8. Describe their life after moving to the capital. How does the man adjust to his life in the city? Does he like it? How do the other city dwellers regard/treat him?

9. Describe the wife’s head-collecting hobby. How does she acquire the decapitated heads? What does she do with them once she has them? Explain.

10. Discuss the imagery/symbolism in this passage:

But the woman’s desire was endless, and so now he was bored with that, too. Her desire was like a bird flying straight across the sky with no end in sight: flying on and on without a rest, never tiring, slicing cleanly through the wind.
The man himself was but an ordinary bird—perhaps an owl that hopped from branch to branch, stopping to doze now and then, maybe crossing a valley if it had to. Physically, he was quick and athletic. He moved well, he walked well, with great vitality. But his heard was a lumbering bird. Flying in an infinite straight line was out of the question for him.
From the mountain-top he watched the sky of the capital. A single bird was flying in a straight line across the sky, this sky that changed from day to night, from night to day, in an endless cycle of light and darkness. At the edges of the sky was nothing, just the infinite repetition of light and darkness, but infinitude was something the man found impossible to comprehend. When he thought about the next day and the next day and the next, and the infinite repetition of light and darkness, it felt as if his head would split in two—not from the effect but the pain of thinking.

11. Why does the bandit come to the decision that he must “bring down the sky” and kill his wife?

12. Explain the significance of this passage.

Is she me? he wondered. Was I the bird that flew straight across the sky with no end? If I kill her, will I be killing myself?

13. What happens the day they return to the mountains? What is strange/unnatural about the scene they encounter?

14. Describe the atmosphere under the cherry blossoms in the final scene. What happens to the woman? Why is the man now able to sit under the cherry forest in full bloom without a feeling of dread/loneliness?

15. What symbols can you find in the work? Explain their significance

16. Why do the two characters disappear in the final scene? Explain.

[1] Sakura no mori no mankai no shita (1949). Translated by Jay Rubin.

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