Oe Kenzaburo’s book A Personal Matter seeks to bring out the concept of individualism, selfishness and escapism mainly brought out by the character Bird. Individualism in the book is seen as resulting from the aftermath of war and the evasion of fatherhood. The characters in the book express the concept of cultural struggle and the search for change. Kenzarubo depicts a post war society in Japan ravaged with socio-economic down time and emphasize on transformation from natural problems of the moment.
Bird, a 27 year old man who struggles to find his destiny after the birth of their first-born child who has brain hernia fails to accept fate and begins to fly away from realities of the day to find rest in exceedingly foreign land that seems to avail no proper solution to the underlying problem. Bird feels that his dreams have been shattered when his wife gives birth to a child whose brain is damaged. The aspect of individualism is majorly manifested in the character of Bird, a school dropout and an alcoholic driven to extremes of escapism by the birth of his deformed son. Bird demonstrates the struggle between responsibility and individualism (Kenzaburo 15).
Bird begins to wonder in dreams with an effort to his actualization that makes him develop state of disbelieve in self and his own home country to find courage in Africa. Birdbuys maps for Africa, fantasizing how he shall finally attain greatest happiness when he reaches Africa. This clearly shows how the society suffers from inadequacy and alienation from its norms. Bird mentally moves away from the societal norms and leads himself into a seemingly awkward state of immorality in the eye of the sufferings of his wife, in the new hospital and his son who suffers from brain hernia. This leaves Bird’s wife and child in a desperate and wanting state. They have nothing to hang on; perhaps the only hope is that the father will one day accept them again. Bird selfishly involves himself in a sexual affair with another woman to fulfill his individualistic desires while his wife is in the hospital. This selfish and individualistic character is so clear till his wife in the book notes, “I think sometimes that when a really crucial moment comes, you will either be drunk or in the grip of some crazy dream and just float up into the sky like a real bird” (Kenzaburo 80).
Kenzaburo reveals tendencies of disregard of societal way of living to engulf in unfamiliar and strange behavior when Bird goes further to imagine brutal death of the brain damaged son of which he has earlier refused to give a name and called a monster, through the aid of the doctor while in hospital. He refuses to help his deformed child get an operation that might improve his looks because he does not want to waste money. The selfish and individualistic behavior that Bird shows is termed as immaturity and childish according to the author of the book (Kenzaburo 18).
Due to Birds individualistic nature, Himiko, his former college girl friend convinces him to fly with her to Africa to forget of the unhappiness of his son. He often fantasizes about divorcing his wife once his baby dies. This is an individualistic character of valuing his pleasure more than the life of his child. Bird’s glorification of Himiko’s sexual encounters is an aspect of individualism in the sense that he disregards his wife affection and romance as he admits that, after having sex with Himiko he felt at peace. Bird does not appreciate his wife intimacy and romance when he states, “…their timidity and the unflagging sense of peril. Even now, after years of marriage, they foundered on the same gloomy psychological shoals every time they made love” (Kenzaburo 76).
Bird’s individualism is used by Kenzaburo as a tool to explain a society that undergoes serious problem where people suffer from inherent disconnect with each other and truth as the world presents it to them. Bird’s lack of compassion results into him continuing with his mental suffering as no one offers to take him out of the problem. The mental suffering continues to discourage him with thoughts about the issues surrounding his family. Bird is faced with a choice of revealing that his child is abnormal to the society because people will laugh at him. He decides to run away from the problem to Africa instead of taking the responsibility of taking care of his child and his wife.
The book describes how the problem of the society is tackled as ‘A personal matter’ yet hugely impacting on the society’s progress as it undergoes socio-economic strain in the contemporary post war period. As a result of the frustrations Bird goes through, he goes ahead to personalize the deformity of his child, which was caused by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as he feels that he is personally responsible for the child’s deformity due to the inadequacy in his own life. Kenzaburo portrays a society that lacks self definition as people wage their hope by individualism and betrayal of their society to embrace un-societal means to meet their needs. This is achieved through the individualistic character of the people a trait that is shown in the title of the book (Kenzaburo 100).
On the path to transformation, Bird decides to accept fate as it presents itself to him, and decides not to be overcome by the already inconceivable problem that hits his family and rises above it. Kenzaburo uses the Bird as a character to show the idea that a society that is characterized by long-suffering and the escape from reality comes to terms with realism and forges ahead in the end. This is shown as he later refuses Himiko’s idea to kill his son and fly with her to Africa so that he forgets the troubles and the unhappiness of his family. Bird takes a decisive step to abandon his long dreams of adventuring the foreign land so that he rescues his family by accepting the responsibility of fathering his child.
The author ends the story in a seemingly sorry state of a delicate and tender family that experiences turmoil from the start to realize acceptance and a happy family as Bird overcomes his mental unconsciousness in pursuit of the destiny of his family. A state of change continues at this moment when Kenzaburo represents Bird as gaining social morality and maturity to be part of the family, to love again and to take care of his family responsibly. The individualism and selfishness shown by Bird boils down to decency and love, contrasting the already dark reputation painted at the beginning of the novel. In the ultimate, the writer puts together the awkwardness that addressed the society with social change that finally finds space in the contemporary society that defines Bird’s present times.
In conclusion, Kenzaburo keenly brings out the resounding realism which society must agree with the in the contemporary world as opposed to idealistic thinking that is retrogressive and backward. Kenzaburo emphasizes on the need for people to mature and take on their duties and responsibilities in the society through the recovery of Bird as in the end he eventually accepts his child and become responsible.