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All year-round, the smells of a coffin and coffin nails hover over her. Great-Grandmother does not brush her teeth. Great-Grandmother does not believe in airplanes. Great-Grandmother does not watch television
Great-Grandmother simply stands in front of the window of her Garret, or sits in the sun, a sun that does not penetrate her but simply casts a shadow behind her. She is very pale and does her hair in an archaic fashion, and has a face that the narrator describes as a set of wrinkles with archeological significance.
Each family treats the situation with different tactics but all show an inherent disdain for the very old, to the point of seeing and treating them as if they are inhuman, and with an irreverent lack of respect that is contrary to the culture from which they came. The only piece that offers a consoling look at the very old, throughout is Thoughts of Home, but it is also clear that even though the family of the Old gentleman allow him to recreate his old home, they do so with open misgivings and question his sanity as he works. The other two works, are different in several ways, one being gender, as the very old person, figuratively and literally holding back the family from progress also happens to be a woman, devoid of all the characteristics that are prized with regards to women, beauty, a loving nature and the ability to offer compassion. In Thoughts of Home the younger characters can sympathize with the Old Man because they have seen the changes within their world, first hand and they are also men who have a strong and potentially life altering longing for home. While in the other two short narratives the culture has been so altered and the place of women has changed so drastically, from the old to the young that there is no real way that any of the characters can begin to understand the motivation of these two old and mysteriously frightening women. They were raised within a system that made them useless from the start, if they had any breeding at all and now they were even more dependant and useless, and likely angry and controlling for that very reason. (Niwa 344) This can be seen in the quirkiness of the women's behaviors, the petty thievery, even though they are being provided everything that a restful soul would need, in the case of Ume' the tearing of cloth to useless bits, even when the whole of Japan was in need of the scraps she was wasting and in the case of Great-Grandmother the stealing of shoes and the forceful manner in which she barred all to enter her Garret. The supernatural way in which these women were disconnected from the modern world, Ume' looking ridiculous in the modern cut clothes that her granddaughter was forced to put on her because she tore everything else to shreds and the Great-Grandmother demanding that the home she had always known not be changed, while she was alive, even when the patterns of everything else around it was modern.
The treatment of death is also different in the three narratives, as the man has concerned relations, who support his vision, out of respect while the women are openly disdained, for living longer than they are useful and holding the family back. In Great-Grandmother's household there is a sense of great tradition, and supernatural time, the older relatives believe in prophetic demons and act savagely to protect themselves from them, while the Narrator sits disconnected from the scene, observing the strangeness of it but powerless to stop it. Gret-Grandmother is given the simple respect of not being told openly of the wish of her death. Ume' is treated as a child and spoken to as if she is simply a burden, and an irksome one at that and told by all around her that she has lived to long and needs to die and unburden her family in so doing. Ume' is openly described as frightening in appearance and worthless. While the Father in Thoughts of Home is protected and cared for until his feared death arrives.
Death is treated differently, when the death is not welcomed, or when those you are among when you die are connected to you by memory of your earlier days and by some semblance of how you lived as in Thought of Home. In the Moon on the Water there is a touching scene of the widow placing a treasured possession in the coffin of her dead husband, placing the mirror upon his stomach, rather than his chest as he had died with a heaviness and pain, upon his chest. (247) While in the Brothers Shu playful young people tease one another about death, as a recourse for the predicament of their love. (50-51) Death in the stories of the very old, told by those who never knew them in youth is welcomed even longed for by those who are left behind.
Niwa Funio, Ivan Morris, trans. The Hateful Age in Goldblatt, Howard ed. Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused. New York: Grove Press. 1996.
Bi Feiyu, John Balcom, trans. The Ancestor in Goldblatt, Howard ed. Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused. New York: Grove Press. 1996.
Su Tong, Howard Golblatt, trans. The Brothers Shu, in Goldblatt, Howard ed. Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused. New York: Grove Press. 1996.
Kawabata Yasunari, George Seito' trans. The Moon on the Water in Sonu Hwi, Marshall, Pihl, trans. Thoughts of Home, in Peter Lee Modern Korean Literature, Honolulu, University…[continue]
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