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A Personal Matter

This study will examine the character of Bird and the point of view of the narrative in Kenzaburo Oe's novel A Personal Matter. Specifically, the study will explore the legitimacy or believability of the transformation of Bird from a self-centered and frightened man to one who is determined to be take his place in conventional society and to be responsible to his wife and handicapped child. There are certainly descriptions and scenes in the book which highlight the horrors in life, but the book overall has a thoroughly comic point of view. This comic perspective informs us that the transformation of the protagonist should perhaps not be taken with complete seriousness.

In part, Oe is exploring in this book what it means to be Japanese (or simply human) in the wake of World War II, a time when conventional definitions of reality had crumbled. Bird represents the postwar Japanese generation which had to forge its identity out of the ashes. Oe and Bird are trying to find what it means to be a human being in a world in which madness and inhumanity seem to reign. The book portrays the choices available in the novel's simplified world: the conventional life of husband, father, and provider, or the unconventional life of sexual experimentation, drunkenness, irresponsibility, and following one's dreams no matter how far-fetched. In sending Bird on his comic trip through the nightmare of postwar Japanese society, Oe is able to both critique that society and to provide a "happy" ending. The question is whether the choice Bird makes, which creates that happy ending, is believable in the context of Bird's character. Also in question is whether Oe truly intends the ending to be taken seriously as a warning against the profligate life and a celebration of the conventional life. Oe may certainly be saying that Bird makes the proper, sane, responsible choice in returning to his wife and baby, but considering the truly horrible portrait of socie...

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A Personal Matter. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:57, December 07, 2021, from