Great World Writers: Twentieth Century - Vol. 1

By Patrick M. O'Neil | Go to book overview

Reader's Guide to Major Works

THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES

Genre: Novel

Subgenres: Fantastic adventure; fictional documentary

Published: Tokyo, 1962

Time period: 1955–1962

Setting: A landlocked former fishing village

Themes and Issues. The sand of the title (a literal translation would be “The Sand Woman”) stands for many things: for a material world that passes over humanity in crushing waves; for a female landscape to be cultivated; for the masses resisting political instrumentalization, and so on. The narrative both reflects contemporary social changes and acts out the archetypal drama of mankind and nature.

The Plot. A man has been declared dead seven years after being reported missing. He is a schoolteacher and insect collector who made a day trip from Tokyo to a certain sand dune landscape hoping to find an unknown mutation of a particular beetle. Told that he has missed the last bus, he is led to a house between the dunes, reached via a rope ladder. In the morning the ladder is gone. He finds out he has been trapped to replace the busband of a young widow; his task is to help her clear the sand every day in order to preserve the house—and to have children with her. After numerous unsuccessful escape attempts, he provisionally settles into his new life. Left alone as the woman is taken to a hospital with pregnancy complications, he decides consciously to postpone escape.

Analysis. The protagonist, an average urban male intellectual, is fascinated in an abstract way by the dune wilderness and the fluid properties of sand. The landscape is actually a miniature desert and is depriving a former fishing village of its traditional livelihood and turning it into a desperate, marginal, parasitic community. The novel's conclusion is not the product of resignation, for the protagonist realizes that his neurotic quest for liberty would only lead him back to the constraints of the urban society he was originally trying to escape. This ending has implications not only within the novel but for society as well, since, through literature, the

The protagonist of Woman in the Dunes, played by Eiji Okada,
marches forward into a trap. He already seems to have entered
limbo thanks to the “ceaseless movement” of the sand: “As long as
the winds blew, the rivers flowed, and the seas stirred, sand would
be borne grain by grain from the earth, and like a living being it
would creep everywhere. The sands never rested,” wrote Abe in his
novel. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara's film version of the work cost
$100,000 and won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 1964.

-16-

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Great World Writers: Twentieth Century - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Introduction 3
  • Contributors 7
  • Contents 9
  • Kōbō Abe 11
  • Chinua Achebe 21
  • Isabel Allende 41
  • W.A.Auden 59
  • Mariama Bâ 77
  • Samuel Beckett 87
  • Jorge Luis Borges 105
  • Bertolt Brecht 125
  • Index 143
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