The Mother of Dreams: Portrayals of Women in Modern Japanese Fiction
To Lafcadio Hearn at the turn of the twentieth century, Japan's most priceless objets d'art were not the delicate masterpieces of its fine arts but its women. Today, the women of Japan are viewed with a mixture of old stereotypes and new misconceptions. The Mother of Dreams is an anthology of modern Japanese fiction portraying Japanese women, arranged according to five categories: the maiden, the mistress, the wife, the mother, and the working woman.
These short stories span a period that has seen great changes in the status of Japanese women. There has also been a transformation in women's expectations of themselves and of the people around them. Such changes are manifest in the treatment of the protagonists in this anthology, some of whom adhere to traditional roles while others seek to find new functions and attitudes.
The young maidens in the three short pieces by Nobel laureate Kawabata Yasunari contrast sharply with the contemporary women, such as the ordinary housewife and budding actress portrayed by Mori Yoko. But just as significant as change is continuity. The mistress-turned-stripper-turned-prostitute of Nagai Kafu's immediate postwar world has much in common with Kaiko Takeshi's virgin-whore from the period of the Korean War. Such images are in turn challenged by the middle-aged geisha portrayed by Enchi Fumiko and the young mother who abandons her child in Setouchi Harumi's piece, women whose depth of emotion defies the stereotypes assigned to them by their class and their occupation.
Professor Ueda's anthology presents some of the finest work of Japan's major writers, both female and male, on a subject of truly universal significance. At a time when change and continuity pose problems as well as solutions in the search for identity and meaning in our lives, The Mother of Dreams provides thought-provoking and meaningful material for us all.
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