The Reflection in the Mirror: A Close Reading of Akutagawa
It is human nature for people to seek acceptance from society in order to be happy. In Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “The Nose,” this idea is seen through the eyes of a priest looking for acceptance from his people. Every day people search for happiness in the things they do and the people they associate with. Very rarely do people look inward to find that acceptance and happiness they desire, but inside look at their surroundings for happiness. The key to happiness is for a person to accept themselves and come to the traditional realization that they were made in God’s own, unique image.
The people with whom we surround ourselves is a reflection of who we are as a individuals; they help mold us into who we become. This process can have both a positive and negative affect on our personality and beliefs as a whole: “A disciple of [Naigu’s] came back to Ike-no-o with a new method for shortening noses” (Akutagawa 22). Naigu’s disciples were always searching for ways to help him fix the problem of having such a long nose. The disciples saw how unhappy his nose made him, on the inside, that is affected his personality on the outside no matter how hard he tried to hide it. The disciple was a good friend in recognizing his master’s inward pain. However, instead on trying fix Naigu’s appearance on the outside and “cast a pitying glance” at Naigu, he should have helped him accept his blemishes (Akutagawa 23). A good friend would have helped his friend fix the problem, but a true friend would not help fix the problem, but instead give his friend the confidence to accept his differences. Even though the disciple of Naigu was trying to help his master, he was really only hurting him more. The disciple made Naigu more self-conscious about his nose. Naigu “did not like having is nose handled like some kind of thing” and, even though unintentional, that is exactly what the disciple did to Naigu. Being a man of God and faith, the disciple should have recognized that the source of pain for Naigu was on the inside, that he just wanted to be accepted for who he was. The disciple needed to help Naigu realize that God made him the he was for a reason, and that he should look at the bigger picture; indeed, Naigu needed a friend that would do that for him because he was blinded by his own doubt and insecurities. Numerous times this is the case for many people and they just need a friend or friends to support them in their uniqueness.
Akutagawa’s story engages the potent religious theme that every person is created a specific way, and given a set purpose, as part of a divine plan. People in the town of Ike-no-o said “Naigu was lucky to be a priest” and “it was because of his nose that he had entered the priesthood” (Akutagawa 21). Even though the towns people said these things mostly for the sake of spreading rumors and to mock Naigu, there might be some truth in them. The reason God gave Naigu such a big nose was not to make him so ugly that no one would love him so he would have to become a priest. Instead, the reason behind God giving him the nose was so Naigu would know what it was like to live with faults and blemishes. He would know first had how it felt to live with a burden. God wanted Naigu to learn how to overcome this hardship by changing how he viewed himself on the inside, not by changing his appearance. This way he could preach to his follows how to overcome inner and outer burdens that God has bestowed on us from a first hand experience. Naigu would know how his follows would feel in times of trial and heartache, making him much closer to their pain. However, Naigu “sought to repair the damaged self-esteem” by changing on the outside, against what God intended (Akutagawa 21). Naigu was so fixated on his appearances, he failed to see the bigger picture that the universe had put forth for him. Naigu “lacked the wisdom to find a solution to [his] problem,” but did not look towards God to find the strength and wisdom he needed (Akutagawa 25). He looks towards remedies and doctors to help him solve his problem. However, in the end when “Naigu [feels] that same bright sense of relief he had experience when his nose became short” he is also coming to the realization of why he was made the way he was. He was put on earth to do a specific job and the nose was given to him to help him in his teachings, not inhibit and handicap him.
Putting small, less important problems and worries before loving and serving divinity and morality will not solve those problems. Naigu knew it was “wrong for a priest to worry over his nose,” but still continued to put his worries about his nose before his preaching (Akutagawa 21). People looked at him only for his nose, so this is what he began to do as well. He only looked at people for their faults and ugliness, the opposite of what a priest should be doing. All people, but especially priests like Naigu, should be searching out people with troubles not to gain acceptance and closure, but to help those people who are hurting. Naigu used his sources of learning God’s ways, his scriptures, to find people who were similar to him, not to grow closer to God as he should have been doing. “Naigu would comb the Buddhist scriptures and other classic texts, searching for a character with a nose like his own” (Akutagawa 22). He continued on and on to find acceptance through other people and other characters instead of going to God for help. He lost so much faith in God from turning away from him that “the priestly garb he knew so well hardly existed for him” (Akutagawa 21). In the face of adversity, Naigu turned away from the thing he had devoted he life to. Akutagawa shows us that even the people that are suppose to be the closest to God can lose their way and end up lost. Naigu burdened himself and this burden only led to “[his] mood worsening with each passing day” (Akutagawa 25). Akutagawa tells us this, in order to show us what not to do when faced with hardship. He wants to tell his reads that by seeking help from God, we will find the answer we are looking for.
Akutagawa makes many connects to God and faith through his writing in “The Nose.” His writing draws parallels by making his main character, who has an appearance blemish, a very large nose, a priest. Someone who the world sees as faith devote in their thoughts and actions. However, as we see in this story, even faithful individuals can loose sight of religiosity in their daily lives. Akutagawa teaches us that the people who surround us in our everyday lives will being to impact our lives more than God. We will begin to put other things before God, only making things worse. The true answer to things is when we see that we are who we are for a reason; fate puts us in situations to learn and grow, not to make our lives worse.
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