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From Pessimism to Optimism: Banana Yoshimoto’s Grief-Stricken Characters

Autor:   •  October 11, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  4,379 Words (18 Pages)  •  91 Views

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Xin (Cecilia) Liu

Ms. French

ELA 12 Sec. 01

From Pessimism to Optimism: Banana Yoshimoto’s Grief-Stricken Characters

        Although many grief-stricken individuals in literature are often inclined towards escaping a harsh reality through self-isolation and imagination, the hopeful characters in several of Banana Yoshimoto’s novels use these illusions as a way for them to reclaim the happiness they once held. Yoshimoto often presents her characters in her novels as individuals who are mourning the loss of a loved one, whether that be substantially or spiritually. In Kitchen, when her grandmother, the last member of her family, passes away, Mikage finds herself alone in having to confront an intimidating society full of strangers. In Goodbye Tsugumi, Maria agonizes over her growing separation, which can be seen as a spiritual loss, with her childhood friend and cousin, Tsugumi. Yoshimoto’s short story “Moonlight Shadow” examines the life of Satsuki, who is plagued by grief when she loses her boyfriend in a car accident. When analyzing Yoshimoto’s style of writing, B. A. Wallace observes that unlike other “well-known postwar authors such as Oe Kenzaburo or Murakami Haruki, Yoshimoto typically offers readers comforting and upbeat spiritual solutions or means of emotional healing” (Wallace, Denton, and Fulton 257). When one is socially or emotionally isolated, an overwhelming sense of fear and hopelessness tends to alter their mindset and he or she will often find themselves in a dystopian world in which hope no longer awaits for them. Instead of surrounding themselves with negativity however, Yoshimoto’s characters attempt to find “comfort” and solace in their personal interests as a means of “emotional healing” for their distressed mentality. In Banana Yoshimoto’s works, the main characters are often depicted as lonely and alienated, but through diversions of his or her attention from alienation and indulging in personal interests, these characters are eventually able to go through a stage of self-realization to achieve happiness while also realizing the importance of human companionship.

        Kitchen, Goodbye Tsugumi, and Moonlight Shadow, all show a similarity: the characters are presented as strong individuals who cope with their despair through engagement in personal hobbies or interests. The similarities of the characters’ situations paves the way for optimism and friendship; it gives incentive for a despairing person to live as they realize that there are others in similar situations around them. Douglas Dupler asserts in his “Critical Essay on Kitchen” that “[...] Sartre meant that each person’s existence has the ultimate meaning for them because there are no essential truths that can be handed down. Finding truth, which may vary from person to person, is each person’s responsibility” (Dupler). According the Sartre, because “existence precedes essence,” these characters have no predetermined nature, and are free to choose their destinies. Each of Yoshimoto’s characters embarks on a journey to find the “truth,” which is representative of their existence. If one wants to belong and fit into the social world, he or she can accomplish that by being proactive and taking responsibility. As the characters in her novels develop friendships with those in similar situations, their strong bonds eventually lead them to a new beginning while leaving the past behind.


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