Wednesday, 29 October 2014

"The Man Who Did Not Smile" Analysis

         A Mere Cover of Misfortune

          With loneliness permeating his writing, Yasunari Kawabata is noted as one of Japan’s major novelists before the great wars (World Wars I and II). Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1899, he lost his family early in his childhood, a factor which very well could have influenced his bleak and fragile writing style which mainly consisted of novels and his well-known collection of short stories known as Palm of the Hand Stories, which are meant to be received as miniature pieces of artistic prose. One such story, specifically “The Man Who Did Not Smile” (which was written in 1929) illustrates the lonely and bleak fragility with themes of nature and reverse psychology, the character’s (the author’s) yearning for peace, and that though that the outer layer of something may be beautiful, is a façade and what is underneath is usually quite disappointing.  
          “The Man Who Did Not Smile,” is the tale of an author whose story is being filmed. He rewrites the ending to the story being filmed, and decides it would be a “beautiful daydream” to wrap the reality of the “dark story” in masks “appearing all over the screen” (129 Kawabata). Eventually, he finds enough masks. However, when he visits his ill wife in the hospital and she accommodates the requests of their children to ‘try on’ the mask, he notices that after it was taken away, it revealed the reality beneath and he perceived the “ugliness of her own countenance for the first time” (132). The main character attempts to remove the mask scene but discards the message, illustrating that perhaps, with an ending where masks appear, he is masking the likelihood that he may not have been able to create the precise ending for the film.
          In the first half of the story, there is a focus not only the color green, but also on nature, something especial to Kawabata. In Japanese culture, the color green is symbolic for rest, renewal, peace, and calm and is also associated with nature and fresh, growing verdure (Madden). Kawabata uses these themes in a reverse way. Although the green or celadon colored sky in the beginning relieves him because he has rewritten the film’s ending scene, the green dawn of morning itself is only a mask to the dark night, much like the appearance of smiling masks at the film’s end is a mask to the gloomy and obscure story.
          Taking place in a ward of a mental hospital, the film the main character in involved in is a picture of imperfections which punctuate everyday life. The author does not possess a name, nor does anyone else in the story. This lends the few pages of “The Man Who Did Not Smile” an air of nondescript anonymity and uncertainty. In the story, the main character wishes for inner peace in the creation of a fitting ending to the film, but he does not find it there, for it is much more difficult to find masks than he had imagined. The wandering he and others do in search of various masks could represent a seemingly endless searching for some type of end or means that does not guarantee satisfaction. When he mentions that he was overjoyed, had a pleasant sensation, and could sleep soundly, it was only a façade; this peace over a mediocre ending would not gratify his overall yearning for harmony.
          Though everything becomes more dim and hopeless to Kawabata’s main character, he is able to rewrite the film ending and include masks attempting to cloak the dreary story in grins. However, outer layers are façades and whatever is underneath them usually burns through like sulfuric acid through fibers. The masks cannot cover the fact that what is underneath is imperfect because he knows imperfection; his wife is deathly ill, deteriorating, and he cannot stop the degradation of her health (Kawabata 131). To this author, life is a span of time in which people hide behind masks to cover their distress. Within this lifespan, art, even his art, is no good; it is merely an expression of pain, it cannot conceal the misfortune that occurs in life (132).
          Kawabata’s work is 
                    “sad, fagile, and unbalanced…far from presenting fumes of prettiness, continuously
                     surprising and often intensely unsettling; at their best, they are unequaled in portraying
                     the psychic cost of aesthetic pleasure, the deadening of sympathy and sense in minds 
                     highly susceptibility” (Phillips). 
         Readers are drawn in, bitten, and left in a dream-like state attempting to grasp meaning behind the prose. “The Man Who Did Not Smile” is a writer’s piece that colors a painting of dawn. However, with the struggle for peace amidst the knowledge that nothing in creation, not even a smiling mask, possesses the ability to cover the face of reality and misfortune, Kawabata prods readers to ask the question if the piece he wrote was a picture of dawn, or rather of the coming darkness. The character’s personality was gloomy, and despite his efforts to brighten the ending, fate would have none of it, for even gentle, smiling masks are a mere cover of misfortune.
Works Cited
Kawabata, Yasunari. Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. San Francisco: North Point, 1988. Print. Madden, Thomas J., Kelly Hewett, and Martin S. Roth. “Managing Images in Different Cultures: A Cross-
          National Study of Color Meanings and Preferences.” Journal of International Marketing 8.4 
          (2000): 90-107. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 26 Oct. 2014. Phillips, Brian. "The Tyranny of Beauty: Kawabata." Hudson Review 59.3 (2006): 419- 428. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. 
          Wilson)Web. 26 Oct. 2014.

Notes: Writing about such dark hopelessness is often my greatest thankfulness cultivator. Joy and wholesomeness does not come without struggle and depth; Christ is our depth, and with Him we need wear no mask, for he sees the ugly and the beauty underneath. Nothing is hidden from His sight. 

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