Personal Freedom and Nonconformity in Kobo Abe's Novels

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Personal Freedom and Nonconformity in Kobo Abe's Novels

“No man or woman is wooed by theory alone.” (WITD 32)

In declaiming the ability to woo by theory, Kobo Abe betrays his desire to do exactly that. Trained as a physician, Abe has a mindset which leans toward the scientific method: one of hypothesis, experiment, result, and conclusion. In this case, the original hypothesis posed that a man could woo by theory alone, the experiment was the attempt of a wooing guided by theoretical principles, the result a failure, and the conclusion drawn is that such a wooing is not possible, disproving the original hypothesis. We see in this procedure not only Abe’s predilection for theory and introspection, but we also are provided a glimpse at the motivations of a man who would initially believe in a theory of wooing, a concept which to many might seem an obvious contradiction. His novels, indeed, is rife with the contradictions that have been Abe’s trademark, and it is in his attempt to unify these various contradictions to prove a common theme of personal freedom and nonconformity that the novels gain the greater part of its power.

In The Woman in the Dunes, Abe describes the nature of reality: the individual reality, wherein it ultimately springs forth from the unconscious mind, and the social reality, where the individual reality, at least in terms of its manifestation, can be either suppressed or encouraged by the type of society in which the individual lives and works. It is a complex attempt to unify these two realities, and to reach a sort of accord whereby the individual self can find expression and participate in a meaningful manner in the social reality. In other words, he is attempting to bridge that chasm, the gap that separates the constricting perception of day-to-day social reality from the larger and far less stable absolute reality, of which the day-to-day social reality is but one small part.

Abe deals with these themes through the image of the sand. The sand is formless, and yet it becomes a barrier blocking the protagonist’s attempts at escape. It sucks moisture from his body, but also traps it, causes wood to rot, and, in the final pages of the story, becomes a massive water pump. Abe uses sand imagery as a means to convey both the absurdity of the social day-to-day reality as well as a means by which an almost Zen-like meditative state is induced in the protagonist, through which he may achieve a higher level of consciousness.

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