[NOVEL] THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES – KOBO ABE

Summary: After missing the last bus home following a day trip to the seashore, an amateur entomologist is offered lodging for the night at the bottom of a vast sand pit. But when he attempts to leave the next morning, he quickly discovers that the locals have other plans. Held captive with seemingly no chance of escape, he is tasked with shoveling back the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten to destroy the village. His only companion is an odd young woman. Together their fates become intertwined as they work side by side at this Sisyphean task.

“Being free always involves being lonely.”

Many people said that this novel gives you a really “claustrophobic” atmosphere, with all the sand surrounding the main character. And it feels like the sand will eventually collapse on you. Admittedly, I feel the same. But don’t be discouraged! The Woman in the Dunes is an amazingly unique and intriguing novel I’ve read, since it leaves room for so many discussions and interpretations of its metaphors and images! A successful movie adaptation was made in 1964 by Hiroshi Teshigahara, and you can find the trailer here.
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The point of existence

What if you were trapped at the bottom of a sand pit, forced to do pointless work and no one knew that you are missing, would to continue to live? The most logical answer would be yes: live, in order to escape. But that is an oversimplified answer. With The Woman in the Dunes, you will get to explore this existential and philosophical question: what is the purpose of human’s existence.

“Was it permissible to snare […] a man who had his certificate of medical insurance, someone who had paid his taxes, who was employed, and whose family records were in order?”

The main character, Nikki, was extremely angry upon realizing that he, a “registered resident” with numerous social relationships, was kidnapped. He was even more angry and puzzled at the bizarre woman who lives only to shovel sand, every single day. How can someone live like that? Nikki’s question is also the audience’s question. What if all attempts to escape fail? What if he had to live in the bottom of the sand pit his whole life? As Nikki is stripped off everything, especially his social identifications that define him as a person, he is forced on a journey to adapt to this new environment and find new meanings for his existence.

“Do you shovel to survive, or survive to shovel?”

Erosion of will

One extremely bizarre and interesting character is the woman that lives inside the dunes before Nikki comes. She seems to be very nonchalant about life in the dunes: living in poverty, shoveling sand every night, sleeping naked every morning. One has to ask: how can she be so nonchalant about a life like that? Has she given up trying to escape? Has she been through all the struggle, denial and indignance that Nikki is experiencing right now? Will Nikki eventually become exactly like the woman, living a pointless life with pointless goals?

“One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.”

There are so many interpretations for the image of the woman and this novel in general. Personally, I think the woman represents the power of environment that creates repetition and destroys human’s will to break away from it.

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Hope you enjoy! xD

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