Monday, September 28, 2015

Study Guide: Kawabata Yasunari “Pomegranate” (Zakuro)

Morrison
Study Guide: Kawabata Yasunari “Pomegranate” (Zakuro)[1]

*Kawabata Yasunari 川端康成 (1899-1972): Son of a highly-cultivated physician, Kawabata was born in 1899 in Osaka. After the early death of his parents he was raised in the country by his maternal grandfather and attended the Japanese public school. From 1920 to 1924, Kawabata studied at the Tokyo Imperial University, where he received his degree. He was one of the founders of the publication Bungei Jidai, the medium of a new movement in modern Japanese literature. Kawabata made his debut as a writer with the short story, “Izu dancer,” published in 1927. After several distinguished works, the novel Snow Country in 1937 secured Kawabata’s position as one of the leading authors in Japan. In 1949, the publication of the serials Thousand Cranes and The Sound of the Mountain was commenced. He became a member of the Art Academy of Japan in 1953 and four years later he was appointed chairman of the P.E.N. Club of Japan. At several international congresses Kawabata was the Japanese delegate for this club. The Lake (1955), The Sleeping Beauty (1960) and The Old Capital (1962) belong to his later works, and of these novels, The Old Capital is the one that made the deepest impression in the author’s native country and abroad. In 1959, Kawabata received the Goethe-medal in Frankfurt. (source: www.nobelprize.org)

*Palm-of-the-hand story: According to Kawabata himself, the essence of his art was to be found in a series of short stories-which he called “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories”-written over the entire span of his career. He began experimenting with the form in 1923 and returned to it often. In fact, his final work was a “palm-sized” reduction of “Snow Country,” written not long before his suicide in 1972. Dreamlike, intensely atmospheric, at times autobiographical and at others fantastical, these stories reflect Kawabata’s abiding interest in the miniature, the wisp of plot reduced to the essential. In them we find loneliness, love, the passage of time, and death. (Source: Buffalo Library)

Study Questions

1. What season is it? How does this season relate the mood/themes of the piece?

2. When is the story set? Describe that time period.

3. How would you describe the life of Kimiko and her mother? Where is the father?

4. Are there any symbols in the piece? Explain the significance/function of the pomegranate.

5. Describe the mother. How in tune with her daughter’s emotional life is she?

6. Explain the significance of the following passage: “It [the mother’s comment that she had forgotten about the pomegranate] made Kimiko think of their loneliness. The pomegranate over the veranda too seemed lonely and forgotten.”

7. What function does the seven-year-old cousin serve in the piece?

8. Is this a linear story? Or are there flashbacks (i.e. analepses, external or internal) embedded in it? Explain.

9. From what point of view is the story told? If third person, is it omniscient? Where is/are the point(s) of focalization?

10. Why does Kimiko feel “somehow apologetic”? Toward what/whom?

11. Explain the scene where Keikichi first sees Kimiko coming down the stairs: “He greeted her with his eyes, as if it were more than he could do to wait for her to come down. She stopped on the stairs.” Why does Keikichi drop the pomegranate?

12. Why does Kimiko refuse the pomegranate at first, and then take it?

13. In what ways does the form (“palm-of-the-hand story”) determine the content/style? Is the style more poetic/symbolic/literary OR straightforward/prosaic/transparent?

14. Can you find any examples of “synesthesia” in the piece? Explain. Write three sentences that employ the technique.

15. Explain the significance of the following passage: “With her mother watching her, it would have been strange for Kimiko to refuse to eat. She bit nonchalantly into it. The sourness filled her mouth. She felt a kind of sad happiness, as if it were penetrating far down inside her.”

16. Why does the mother say she was “afraid to comb my hair” after her husband’s death?

17. What is Kimiko’s “private happiness” (himitsu no yorokobi)? Why does it make her “feel shy before her mother”?

18. Why is she afraid to bite into the pomegranate in the last sentence?

19. If Kawabata had expanded this into a full-length novel, what sort of novel would it be? Write a brief summary of the plot of that novel.

“The Pomegranate” by Kawabata Yasunari

In the high wind that night the pomegranate tree was stripped of its leaves.
The leaves lay in a circle around the base.
Kimiko was startled to see it naked in the morning, and wondered at the flawlessness of the circle. She would have expected the wind to disturb it.
There was a pomegranate, a very fine one, left behind in the tree.
“Just come and look at it,” she called to her mother.
“I had forgotten.” Her mother glanced up at the tree and went back to the kitchen.
It made Kimiko think of their loneliness. The pomegranate over the veranda too seemed lonely and forgotten.
Two weeks or so before, her seven-year-old nephew had come visiting, and had noticed the pomegranates immediately. He had scrambled up into the tree. Kimiko had felt that she was in the presence of life.
“There is a big one up above,” she called from the veranda.
“But if I pick it I can’t get back down.”
It was true. To climb down with pomegranates in both hands would not be easy. Kimiko smiled. He was a dear.
Until he had come the house had forgotten the pomegranate. And until now they had forgotten it again.
Then the fruit had been hidden in the leaves. Now it stood clear against the sky.
There was strength in the fruit and in the circle of leaves at the base. Kimiko went and knocked it down with a bamboo pole.
It was so ripe that the seeds seemed to force it open. They glistened in the sunlight when she laid it on the veranda, and the sun seemed to go on through them.
She felt somehow apologetic.
Upstairs with her sewing at about ten, she heard Keikichi’s voice. Though the door was unlocked, he seemed to have come around to the garden. There was urgency in his voice.
“Kimiko, Kimiko!” her mother called. “Keikichi is here.”
Kimiko had let her needle come unthreaded. She pushed it back into the pincushion.
“Kimiko had been saying how she wanted to see you again before you leave.” Keikichi was going to war. “But we could hardly go and see you without an invitation, and you didn’t come. It was good of you to come today.”
She asked him to stay for lunch, but he was in a hurry.
“Well, do at least have a pomegranate. We grew it ourselves.” She called up to Kimiko again.
He greeted her with his eyes, as if it were more than he could do to wait for her to come down. She stopped on the stairs.
Something warm seemed to come into his eyes, and the pomegranate fell from his hand.
They looked at each other and smiled.
When she realized that she was smiling, she flushed. Keikichi got up from the veranda.
“Take care of yourself, Kimiko.”
“And you.”
He had already turned away and was saying goodbye to her.
Kimiko looked on at the garden gate after he had left.
“He was in such a hurry,” said her mother. “And it’s such a fine pomegranate.”
He had left it on the veranda.
Apparently he had dropped it as that warm something came into his eyes and he was beginning to open it. He had not broken it completely in two. It lay with the seeds up.
Her mother took it to the kitchen and washed it, and handed it to Kimiko.
Kimiko frowned and pulled back, and then, flushing once more, took it in with some confusion.
Keikichi would seem to have taken a few seeds from the edge.
With her mother watching her, it would have been strange for Kimiko to refuse to eat. She bit nonchalantly into it. The sourness filled her mouth. She felt a kind of sad happiness, as if it were penetrating far down inside her.
Uninterested, her mother had stood up.
She went to a mirror and sat down. “Just look at my hair, will you. I said goodbye to Keikichi with this wild mop of hair.”
Kimiko could hear the comb.
“When your father died,” her mother said softly, “I was afraid to comb my hair. When I combed my hair I would forget what I was doing. When I came to myself it would be as if your father were waiting for me to finish.”
Kimiko remembered her mother’s habit of eating what her father had left on his plate.
She felt something pull at her, a happiness that made her want to weep.
Her mother had probably given her the pomegranate because of a reluctance to throw it away. Only because of that. It had become a habit not to throw things away.
Alone with her private happiness, Kimiko felt shy before her mother.
She thought that it had been a better farewell than Keikichi could have been aware of, and that she could wait any length of time for him to come back.
She looked toward her mother. The sun was falling on the paper doors beyond which she sat at her mirror.
She was somehow afraid to bite into the pomegranate on her knee.

川端康成「ざくろ」(1943)

一夜の木枯らしにざくろの葉は散りつくした。
その葉は,ざくろの木の下の土を円く残して、そのまわりに落ちていた。
雨戸をあけたきみ子は,ざくろの木が裸になったのにも驚いたが、葉がきれいな円を描いて落ちているのも不思議だった。風に散り乱れそうなものだった。
梢にみごとな果実があった。
「おかあさん、ざくろの実。」
と、きみ子は母を呼んだ。
「ほんとうに……。忘れていた。」
と、母はちょっと見ただけで、また台所へもどって行った。
忘れていたという言葉から、きみ子は自分たちのさびしさを思い出した。縁先になっているざくろの実も忘れて暮らしているのだった。
半月ばかり前のこと——いとこの子供が遊びに来ると、早速ざくろに目をつけた。七歲の男の子が我武者に木を登るのに、きみ子は生き生きしたものを感じて、
「まだ上に大きいのがあるわよう。」
と、縁から言った。
「うん、だって、取ったら、僕おりられないよう。」
なるほど、両手にざくろを持っては、木からおりられない。きみ子は笑い出した。子供が非常に可愛かった。
子供が来るまで、この家ではざくろの実を忘れていた。それからまた今朝まで、ざくろの実を忘れていた。
子供の来た時は、まだ葉のあいだにかくれていたが、今朝はざくろの実が空にあらわれていた。
このざくろの実も、落ち葉に円くかこまれた庭土も、凛と強くてきみ子は庭に出ると、竹竿でざくろの実を取った。
熟しきっていた。盛り上がる実の力で張り裂けるように割れていた。縁に置くと、粒々が日に光り、日の光は粒々を透き通った。
きみ子はざくろにすまなかったように思った。
二階に上がって、さっさと縫い物をしていると、十時ごろ、啓吉の声が聞こえた。木戸があいていたか、いきなり庭の方へ廻ったらしく、気負い立った早口だった。
「きみ子、きみ子、啓ちゃんが来たよ。」
と、母が大声に呼んだ。
あわてて糸の抜けた針をきみ子は針山に刺した。
「きみ子もね、啓ちゃんが出征する前に、一度会いたいって言い言いしてたんだけど、こちらからはちょっと行きにくいし、啓ちゃんもなかなか来てくれないしね。まあまあ今日は……。」
と、母が言っている。昼食でもと引きとめるが、啓吉は急ぐらしい。
「困ったわねえ。……これうちのざくろ、おあがり。」
そうしてまたきみ子を呼んだ。
さみ子がおりて行くと、啓吉は眼で迎えるように、その眼は待ち切れぬように、きみ子を見ているので、きみ子は足がすくんだ。
啓吉の眼にふとあたたかいものが浮かびかかった時、
「あっ。」
と、啓吉はざくろを落とした。
二人は顔を見合わせて微笑した。
微笑し合ったことに気がつくと、きみ子は頬が熱くなった。啓吉も急に縁側から腰をあげて。
「きみちゃんも、体に気をつけてね。」
「啓吉さんこそ……
と、きみ子が言った時は、もう啓吉はきみ子に横を向けて母にあいさつをしていた。
啓吉が出て行ってからも、きみ子がちょっと庭の木戸の方を見送っていると、
「啓ちゃんもあわてものだねえ。勿体ない、こんなおいしいざくろを……。」
と、母は言った。縁側に胸をあてて手を伸ばすと、ざくろを拾った。
さっき啓吉は、眼の色があたたかくなりかかった時、自分で気づかずに手を動かして、ざくろを二つに割ろうとしたはずみに、取り落としたのだったろう。割れ切らないで、実の方をうつ伏せに落ちていた。
母はそのざくろを台所で洗って来て、
「きみ子。」
と差し出した。
「いやよ、きたない。」
顔をしかめて、身をひいたが、ぱっと頬が熱くなると、きみ子はまごついて、素直に受け取った。
上の方の粒々を少し啓吉がかじったらしかった。
母がそこにいるので、きみ子は食べないと尚変だった。なにげない風に歯をあてた。ざくろの酸味が歯にしみた。それが腹の底にしみるような悲しいよろこびを、きみ子は感じた。
そんなきみ子に母は、一向無頓着で、もう立ち上がっていた。
鏡台の前を通って、
「おやおや、大変な頭こんな頭で、啓ちゃんを見送って、悪かったわね。」
と、そこに坐った。
きみ子はじっと櫛の音を聞いていた。
「お父さんが、なくなった当座はねえ。」
と、母はゆっくり言った。
「髪を梳くのが、こわくって……髪を梳いてると、つい、ぼんやりしちゃうのね。ふっと、やっぱりお父さんが、梳き終わるのを待ってらっしゃるような、そんな気がしてね、はっとしたりすることがあってね。」
母がよく父の残しものを食べていたのを、きみ子は思い出した。
きみ子はせつない気持ちがこみあげて来た。泣きそうな幸福であった。
母はただ勿体ないと思っただけで、今もただそれだけのことで、ざくろをきみ子にくれたのだろう。母はそういう暮らしをして来たので、つい習わしが出たのだろう。
きみ子は、秘密のよろこびに触れた自分が、母に恥かしかった。
しかし、啓吉に知られないで、心いっぱいの別れ方をしたように思い、また、いつまでも啓吉を待っていられそうに思うのだった。
そっと母の方を見ると、鏡台を隔てる障子にも、日がさしていた。
膝に持ったざくろに歯をあてることなど、もうきみ子には恐ろしいようだった。







[1] Written in 1943. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, in Contemporary Japanese Literature, edited by Howard Hibbett (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1977), 293-295. For a translation of the entire collection, see: Kawabata Yasunari. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Translated from the Japanese by Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman. Imprint Rutland, Vt. : Charles E. Tuttle Co. 1988.

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