Sunday, November 30, 2014

Study Guide: Hayashi Fumiko “Late Chrysanthemum” (Bangiku; 1948)


Study Guide: Hayashi Fumiko “Late Chrysanthemum” (Bangiku; 1948)[1]

*To read the story in the original, click here.
*To purchase Lane Dunlop’s 1986 translation, click here.

Hayashi Fumiko 林芙美子 (1903-1951): Novelist whose realistic stories deal with urban working-class life. Hayashi lived an unsettled life until 1916, when she went to Onomichi, where she stayed until graduation from high school in 1922. In her lonely childhood she grew to love literature, and when she went out to work she started writing poetry and children’s stories in her spare time. Hayashi’s own experiences of hunger and humiliation appear in her first work, Hōrōki (1930; “Diary of a Vagabond,” published in English translation in Be a Woman: Hayashi Fumiko and Modern Japanese Women’s Literature), and Seihin no sho (1931; “A Life of Poverty”). Her stories of degradation and instability, depicting women who remained undaunted, commanded a strong following. Often near sentimentality, they are saved by a realistic and direct style. She reached the peak of her popularity after World War II, when such stories as Daun taun (1948; “Downtown,” published in English translation in Modern Japanese Stories: An Anthology) and Ukigumo (1949; Floating Cloud) mirrored the harsh postwar scene. Hayashi died suddenly of heart strain from overwork. (Encyclopædia Britannica) (Click here for Aozora Bunko texts.)

Study Questions

1. What type of narrator is used in this story? Where is the focalization point? Does this focalization point move?

2. Describe the style of narration. Is there more “showing” (representation) or “telling” (presentation)?

3. Describe the willful, proud, beautiful but aging, retired geisha Aizawa Kin. Discuss her appearance, personality, sexual history, work history, background/upbringing, drug use, view of men/women, financial circumstances, worldview, sense of values, line of work, taste in clothes, hopes/fears, etc. How has she changed over the years (if at all)? Is she a symbol for something?

4. Describe Kin’s much younger lover Tabé. Discuss his background, past and present circumstances, war experience, etc. What is his motivation for visiting Kin?

5. Note the literary/cultural references that appear in the work (e.g. Ise monogatari, Ihara Saikaku, etc.). What is their function/effect?

6. When/where does the story take place? Discuss the importance of this historical context.

7. Describe Kin’s frame of mind in the opening scene. How does she prepare for Tabé’s visit? What does she expect from the encounter?

8. Describe the reunion between Kin and Tabé. How does the encounter fail to meet Kin’s expectations? What “fortress” stands between them?

9. Describe the circumstances of Kin and Tabé’s relationship four years ago. How were things different then?

10. Discuss the undercurrent of violence in the story. Is there foreshadowing of the potential violence on page 102?

11. Discuss the role of the deaf maid Kinu. How does she serve as a contrast to Kinu? What qualities of Tabé does her presence bring out?

12. How do memories of Kin’s past lovers (Itaya, Yamazaki, etc.) appear in the story? How do these memories contrast with the reality of Tabé?

13. Discuss the following passage in terms of the social context of postwar period:

“You’re saying I didn’t turn out well, then?” “Yes, I am.” “That’s thanks to you, and the long war.” “Ah, that’s an excuse. Things like that are not the reason. You’ve become completely vulgar...” “So what if I'm vulgar? That's how people are.”

14. Discuss the significance of Kin’s final act (i.e. the burning of her picture of young Tabé).

15. This work has been described by prominent critic Nakamura Mitsuo as one of the ten best “naturalist” (shizenshugi) pieces of modern Japanese literature.[2] What “naturalist” qualities do you see in the text?

[1] “Bangiku” appeared first in Bungei shunjū in November 1948; it was the winner of the third Women Writers Award in 1949.
[2] See his essay “Hayashi Fumiko ron.”

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