Realism versus magic realism in Yoshimoto Banana’s 1991 short story “Newlywed”
While it would be easy for a work of introspective literature to be laden with heavy existentialism, author Yoshimoto Banana maintains a light and airy atmosphere in her contemplative short story “Newlywed” (1991). The tale’s protagonist is not depressed, yet feels an inexplicable estrangement from his happy life and a sense of isolation amidst a bustling metropolis. His dilemma mirrors the plight of countless city-dwellers whose sense of self has is stymied by the juggernaut that is the fast-paced, work-centric contemporary society. The protagonist’s drunken dream floats on the common threads of the human psyche in order to show readers that release from the constraints of alienation lies within their own consciousness.
“Newlywed” is commonly categorized as magic realism, yet it can be argued that there is in fact no actual supernatural element in the narrative, and that the enlightened shape-shifter is merely the product of a drunken dream. The protagonist is verily intoxicated, and never actually witnesses the shape-shifter’s transformation between bum and beauty; merely closes his eyes and “pretends” to fall asleep. “The rhythmical sounds of the train’s wheels clicking along the tracks filled my ears” (867). The soothing lullaby of ambient noise is evidentiary that the man does, indeed fall asleep, and that the surreal healing process which follows is the natural product of his own mind. The conversation comes to an end just as a blaring voice announces the next stop, presumably jarring him from a brief slumber and returning the floral-scented woman to her original pungent homelessness.
The synergism and connectivity that the protagonist feels toward the shape-shifter provides further evidence that the dialogue is between just one man and his inner thoughts. “I definitely knew her face from somewhere-like maybe she was my favorite actress, or my first girlfriend, or a cousin, or my mother, or an older woman I‘d lusted after—her face looked very familiar” (868). Although he has never met the woman before, he feels a mysterious familiarity and nostalgia as if his own mind has conjured her visage from a collection of past memories. The comfort this provides allows his mind to slip in and out of anxious thoughts in an effort to comprehend and overcome his inexplicable feelings of estrangement.
Despite the dreaminess of Yoshimoto’s story, the narrative is approachable and easy to understand. Much like a psychiatrist and patient, the main character and his conjured shape-shifter engage in a heavily one sided dialogue in which the conflicted is prompted along his own meandering thoughts in order to reach a form of self-guided contemporary enlightenment.
The fact that the shape-shifter is merely a fragment of the main character’s own consciousness is significant in that it suggests to readers that one possesses an inborn power to heal and grow of their own volition, and that it doesn’t take magic to overcome one’s feelings of alienation. For this very reason, it seems quite appropriate for the story of self-healing to have been initially published serially in the subways of Tokyo. The reflective tone of the narrative acts almost as a pep talk for the burnt-out and downtrodden members of the contemporary workforce. “Newlywed” is like an unexpected smile from a stranger that has the power to momentarily awaken the consciousness from its mundane daily routine and say “Ya, but there’s no point in dwelling on it now” (872).
- Rimer, J. Thomas. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature. New York, N.Y.: Columbia UP, 2011. Print.
© 2015 Devon Lois Duncan. All rights reserved.