The mother is unable to adapt to the transitional period and unable to give up her values and traditions. In this new society, she feels out of place and finds some relief in preserving her old habits. Instead, her children find themselves forced to adapt to the social change and their behavior is deviant from the morals they were raised in. As a result, Naoji makes some mistakes in his attempt to succeed and he ends up in suicide due to his failure to understand what has happened to the world as he knew it.
What makes Naoji commit suicide is his inability to find his identity when he comes back from war. He discovers that the world as he knew had changed and he can no longer relate to it. He sees in his inability to adapt the failure of him and of the society he lives in and he decides to commit suicide in order to escape his failure.
The hardest burden for Japanese families is the impoverishment of war in economical terms, due to inflation and land reforms. Financial difficulties were a general issue for every Japanese family, not only for aristocratic families, and Dazai captures in his novel this aspect of postwar Japanese transformation.
What is surprising in Dazai's book is that there are few essences that present to the reader a traditional Japanese society, based on Confuscian values. The society portrayed is rather a modern society that could belong to any western country in the world (Institutions and Symbols, 6). The values adopted by the center character of the book are values that have nothing of the Japanese culture and nothing that represent a Japanese woman in particular.
The story of the aristocratic family that is confronted with the fall of their class and forced to accept its failure is the story of all aristocratic families forced to give up their values and traditions and confronted with the harsh reality of a postwar, transitional society. Dazai captures in his book the essence of the transformations of the Japanese society by capturing the changes that took place in a Japanese family, the symbol of society. A great influence on these changes was made by the Western ideas that corrupted the traditional Japanese values.
The image of a family experiencing great financial decline and moral uncertainty is the story of the entire society experiencing the same exact things in the postwar period. In Dazai's view, modernization stays at the basis of the changes that took place in the traditional Japanese family. Although he sees modernization as corrupting, he is hopeful that these changes could bring progress and prosperity.
Although "The Setting Sun" is a fiction novel in what concerns the events in which the characters are involved, it is the real story of the socio-economic conditions in postwar Japan. The author captures the essence of Japan in that period as the country began losing its traditions along with the war, when people were trying to remake their lives after a war.
Analyzing the members of the center family, Dazai captures the struggle between tradition and modernization portrayed by the differences between the mother, representing the old generation, and her children, that try to keep up with modern times. The death of the mother symbolizes the end of the traditionalist era for Japan, and the death of Naoji symbolizes the depression of the Japanese society. These events capture the essence of postwar Japan - a period of transition that affects both the past and the future. Kazuko's child symbolizes the beginning of a new era for Japan, as Kazuko is confident that her child can be different and that her child will be her salvation.
The Setting Sun" presents in detail the Japanese society in the postwar period and the struggle between traditional society and modernism pictured in the struggle of an aristocratic family to overcome her past and leave its customs. The period in which the novel's action takes place is a period of transition for the characters as well as for Japan.
Dazai, Osamu, the setting sun, translated by Donald Keene, New Directions Publishing Corporation, revised edition, June 1968;
Institutions and symbols, Volume X, No. 43, October 23, 1957, available at http://www.manasjournal.org/pdf_library/VolumeX_1957/X-43.pdf;
Osamu Dazai, 2002, available at http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dazai.htm;
The Setting Sun, November 2006, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Setting_Sun