Home > KOLEKSI BUKU > Irony Holes of Soul: The Re-Interpretation of Bitter

Irony Holes of Soul: The Re-Interpretation of Bitter

The Woman in the DunesThe Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 16th 1991 by Vintage International (first published 1962)
edition language: English

The construction of The Woman in the Dunes includes many instances of irony. The overall ironic structure of the novel is that of the tables being turned on the protagonist. He hunts down and traps bugs for a hobby. And then he becomes like a bug, trapped in a hole in the sand. “He was lured on by the feeling that in all probability his prey was there, and he made his way down the gentle slope,” the narrator relates in the beginning of the story. There are also many other examples of irony, most of them on a much smaller scale. A little later, the protagonist states that he was in “no special hurry,” as he makes his way through the dunes before his capture. This is ironic because as soon as he realizes he is trapped, time weighs down on him almost to the point of his breaking. Then a few lines later, the protagonist sums up the village people with the words: “With their sense of caution appeased, they were merely good, simple fisherfolk.” He will soon learn the irony of his own words. These people were neither simple nor merely good. Once he is lowered into the woman’s house, the protagonist looks around himself and sees what a dilapidated condition the house is in, and the narrator states: “He would have thought they were making a fool of him and would doubtless have gone back at once.” This is ironic on two fronts. First, they were making a fool of him and second, there was no way he could have gone back even if he had realized how foolish he was. At a later point, he misjudges the woman’s actions, then he corrects his interpretation, stating to himself that “he certainly wouldn’t be taken in again.” Of course, at this point, he still does not have any realization that he already has been taken. And so Abe creates one ironic statement after the other. The reader knows what is going on and can laugh at the protagonist’s continual naïveté.

Abe also uses foreshadowing, allowing the reader to sense what is coming as well as to create a dramatic sense of foreboding. Examples of foreshadowing include some of the protagonist’s ironic thoughts before he is captured. For instance, there is the statement he makes as he wanders through the sand dunes, searching for insects. He says, at one point, “There was really nothing yet that foretold danger.” In using this statement, Abe implants the sense of danger in the reader’s mind even if it was not yet in the protagonist’s thoughts. Then a few sentences later, Abe has the man thinking: “What in heaven’s name could it be like to live there? he thought in amazement, peering down into one of the holes.” Again, this is a mix of irony and foreshadowing. The protagonist’s question, although he does not yet realize it, will soon be answered. He will be given a first-hand experience of what it is like to live in a hole in the sand. Yet later, as he continues to wander through the sand dunes, the protagonist concludes that the dunes represent “a disturbing and unsettling landscape.” He has no idea, at that point, how true his feelings are. And when he contemplates a fly, he makes an interesting statement about the insect’s adaptability. “The fact that the fly showed great adaptability meant that it could be at home even in unfavorable environments in which other insects could not live—for example, a desert where all other living things perished.” Much like the fly, the protagonist will also have to learn to adapt and to live in a hole in the sand.

Continuing his hunt for insects, the protagonist comments on the tactics of an entomologist, who “must concentrate his whole attention within a radius of about three yards around his feet.” In a short time, that will be almost all the space that he will have, as the narrow space of the house in the hole will be all that is granted to him. And finally, just before he is captured, he makes the observation: “No matter what they did, he mused, there was no escaping the law of the sand.” That law, the constant motion of the sand, and the inability to climb a steep cliff of sand, will also entrap him.

The Woman in the Dunes has been a popular favorite all over the world, sometimes bringing readers to their first experience of Japanese literature in translation. Abe’s works, in general, are more easily translated because of their lack of allusions to traditional Japanese themes. The Woman in the Dunes focuses instead on problems that people all over the globe must face. Oliver continues her article on Abe by describing the protagonist, Niki Jumpei, as a man who “is first obsessed with the loss of his identity and with escape, but comes to realize that his sand prison gives him intellectual and spiritual freedom.”

When The Woman in the Dunes was made into a movie, Brent Kliewer, of the Santa Fe New Mexican offered these comments. He wrote that it “is a haunting allegory probing the fundamental questions of existence and the meaning of freedom.” Kliewer continued by stating: “Its in the man’s surrender to his circumstances that captured the imagination of the existential thinkers of the 60s.” Existentialists believe that life is purposeless, a point that is at the heart of the novel.

Categories: KOLEKSI BUKU
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