Ogai Mori, one of Japan’s most highly respected writers, was the author of the novel “The Wild Geese”. One of the primary characteristics of Mori’s work is its examination on problems that arise in people’s lives, specifically when their desires conflict with the demands made upon them by society. Back in the 19th century, Japanese society inflicted the fact that women didn’t legally exist, and were solely seen as those in charge of taking care of the household and children. Throughout the story, the author depicts one character’s life, Otama, as a woman in the Meiji-era, who has little freedom to make choices in her personal way of life. Also, male characters such as Okada and Suezo are used to identify the different perspectives men could have towards female roles. Therefore, the novel reflects a realist romanticism of the late 1800’s Japanese society, portraying throughout symbolic figures and the main female characters the difficulties of living in this period of time.
The primary way in which Ogai Mori accomplishes to transmit his message is throughout the male character of Suezo and his involvement with women. This sexist character decides to follow society’s influences and objectify women, specially seen in the way he interacts and communicates with his newly obedient and tender mistress, Otama. At the beginning of their frowned upon relationship, he immediately deduced he could win this young girl over, knowing that with his wealth he would be able to per sway Otama’s father into accepting her daughter’s new role. Moreover, Suezo decides to buy a house where he could escape reality and develop his secret relationship with Otama. Judging by this, the mistress felt as if she was obligated to stay inside the house, where her duty was to calmly and respectfully wait all day for Suezo, knowing that she no longer had the freedom to do as she wished. Besides Otama, Suezo had a very peculiar and complicated relationship with his wife Otsune, a woman that received less respect and rights than Otama. She was constantly judged and described as usless and stupid, when in reality, Otsune had an amazing capacity of figuring out the truth his “loyal” husband was hiding. To illustrate her struggle, the peripheral narrator in the book describes in a highly disgusting and unattractive style the way Suezo judged his partner during natural processes such as breast-feeding: “His wife, who… the exposed breast.” (Mori, 1959, p. 26). In this section of the book, Mori uses extremely detailed imagery to demonstrate Suezo’s perception towards Otsune, as an unworthy human being whose only purpose of existence is to feed and take care of children. Furthermore, the author creates an interesting symbolism, where the young baby attached to Otsune’s breast represents the stagnation towards her job, where her hungry responsibility pulls her down to the role she must fulfill.
Besides Suezo, the main character of Otama portrays the orthodox role of women in the 1800’s in a unique and challenging way. First of all, she understands all too well that she is being treated badly for no reason at all, but she traditionally continues to be bound and limited from her freedom by the duty she must follow. Otama accedes to Suezo’s wishes out of devoted faithfulness towards society’s rules, with the purpose of pleasing her father in economic and moral ways. Although Otama seems to be a loyal and faithful to the regime imposed at the time, she manages to challenge the stereotypical feminine ways of life, something extremely rare at the time. After committing herself towards Suezo for her father’s comfort and happiness, the protagonist starts to develop a long distance relationship with the handsome character of Okada. In addition to her prohibited behavior, Otama found herself thinking more about this young man than her owner, Suezo, the man she was forced to love. Captivated by the unusual respect and appreciation Okada offers, the hidden mistress found herself casually sitting by the window every day, with the anticipation of admiring the man that brought hope to her monotone life: “When Okada took.. the moment he had bowed.” (Mori, 1959, p. 77-78). Here, the text shows the excitement and curiosity Otama feels with Okada’s daily visits, thanks to the powerful and descriptive adjectives the author specifically uses for the reader to picture the scene. Mori portrays the eagerness of the hopeful woman through her body language, where the narrator exposes clues leading to the expected conclusion of Otama’s attraction to Okada. Due to the blushing in her cheeks and the quick pulse of her heart, we can further comprehend the challenge the character imposes to the expectations she’s meant to comply.
Lastly, Ogai Mori accomplished to communicate everything from women’s roles to men’s expectations through the multiple hidden symbols represented by his characters. Symbols like the apron, the insect, the wild geese and Otsune’s breast-feeding ensure a deep meaning to the story, but the most symbolic event of the novel took place in Otama’s boundary to the outer world, the window of her house. Here, as one of her two birds gets trapped by a snake, the image of Otsune and Otama being attacked by Suezo comes to the reader’s mind. Precisely, the trapped bird is the mistress, while the devious snake is Suezo, representing how his strength and power somehow traps Otama, eliminating every possibility of her being free and independent. Also, the fact that Okada liberates the bird from the snake demonstrates the opportunity of the mistress having a joyful and unlimited life with a man that could eliminate the barriers Suezo has built for her buy buying the house in Muenzaka. To clarify this, in chapter 19: “By this… of the cage.” (Mori, 1959, p. 88) the author creates an implicit paragraph, where his intent is to show how deep the snake, or better said Suezo, had his teeth buried in the poor bird and how he wouldn’t let go, displaying through a metaphoric concept the real situation between Otama and Suezo.
After thoroughly analyzing the most important aspects of the novel “The Wild Geese”, we can conclude that Ogai Mori portrayed and illustrated his ideas and analytic thoughts by the use of excellent techniques. Both symbolism and character development greatly contributed to the legacy of the story, but in more detail, the challenge presented by Otama opened the minds of many different women around the world. Due to the circumstance that female rights and voices have always been inferior and masked by masculine superiority, the fact that Otama slightly outdared Japanese concepts in the 1880’s shows how the unnoticed female strength and intelligence can lead to incredible social changes. In conclusion, “The Wild Geese” has become not only a symbol, but a treasure of Japanese literature, with the capacity to overcome every mentality in our actual and future generations.