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At a glance:
First Published: 1940 Type of Plot: Epistolary Time of Work: The twentieth century Setting: Japan Characters: Sayoko, Her husband, Her mother Genres: Psychological fiction, Short fiction Subjects: Husbands, Wives, Twentieth century, Dreams, Domestic violence, Japan or Japanese people, Anatomy, Human anatomy Locales: Asia, Japan
The text of “The Mole” is an undated letter written by Sayoko to her husband of some years. She tells him about a dream that she has had. The night before, during a visit to her mother’s home, Sayoko reports that she dreamed of the mole located high on the upper right side of her back, near her shoulder. Through her reflections on her marriage and life and her account of her dream about her mole, Sayoko reveals both her past and present. She knows that her husband will know about the mole about which she has dreamed because it has been the focus of dissension between them from the earliest days of their marriage. When she lay in bed, her left arm across her chest, playing with the mole, her husband scolded her. It was a bad habit. The mole would grow larger. She should have it removed. Sayoko’s letter tells her husband of the shame she felt when he first began scolding. Even more important, she says that she first became faintly conscious of the oppression of her marriage; her lack of privacy, her lack of refuge, her total vulnerability to his control. Although she then tried to dismiss his attention to her habit of playing with the mole as inconsequential, now that she has been away from him for many years, she sees its importance. Thinking through her life as she writes, Sayoko tells her husband the history of her relation to her mole—a history that is also the story of her own inner life. As a child she began to play with the mole, perhaps because her mother and sisters had noticed it—perhaps even finding it charming— and drew her attention to it. She remembers, however, that her mother also scolded her during puberty for her habit of rubbing the mole and staring absently into space. Her husband’s dislike for
seemingly insignificant in itself. her habit continued. has been a sign that cannot be deciphered. . the mole. her family. Unaddressed. contemplated but never fully understood. Her letter concludes by suggesting to her husband that playing with her mole began in her childhood as a fond expression of her connection to her family. playing with the mole was a young girl’s expression of a love that she did not know how to speak. Even the message of her dream itself is cryptic. When she sleeps she dreams of the mole. Sayoko tells her husband. The letter resolves nothing. Now regarded as a bad wife on the verge of divorce. Awake and weeping. her motives. she finds that her mole is still on her back. she touches her mole and it comes off in her hand. this letter written in painful isolation captures the loneliness. her anger. like the mole. perhaps unsent or unanswered. The letter without an audience also represents her own powerlessness and inability to communicate her feelings. she imagines with pleasure that he might dream of her mole. a language that cannot be understood. Nonetheless. her marriage. She imagines her husband’s mole swelling with the addition of hers. Perhaps the mole is a symbol of her love that has gone unrecognized and that has turned malignant and destructive. “The Mole” captures the mind and heart of a woman at a critical moment—here the moment that a woman is breaking with her husband. His caring ceased. condensed. Drunk and pleading with her husband in her dream. it does not appear to be read by its intended audience. Like the countless “little things” that might combine to poison a relationship. “it was as though I were warding you off.” All attempts by her husband to change or stop her habit failed. Conflict over the mole turned into abuse. estrangement. First-person reflections on her body. and—like her letter—her dream cries receive no response. she suggests. and her life blend in this brief letter to reveal her maturing awareness of herself. Her husband beat and kicked her. and her love. but by then her husband no longer cared one way or the other. Perhaps. One day Sayoko realized that her habit had disappeared of its own accord. the letter remains visible but mysterious.her habit grew during their marriage until it became a metaphor for their relationship. Like the mole. In her mother’s home she is again free to play with her mole but cannot. as though I were embracing myself. Sayoko is surprised to find herself thinking of her husband and feeling grief. Themes and Meanings Like many of Yasunari Kawabata’s stories. She beseeches him to put her mole in the pit of the mole beside his nose. and failures of communication that have characterized the woman’s life with her family and with her husband. and his dislike for her habit grew into a dislike for her.
When did it begin to grow? Babies do not seem to have moles. The change of scene that occasions the letter also provides the perspective that Sayoko needs to investigate the original cause of her mole. however far removed from direct communication of her feelings. Perhaps her mole grew as her sense of . She struggles against long years of feeling worthless and searches her life for some experience or emotion that might redeem her self-esteem. Even her mother has never seen any of the misery. shame. to tell her husband what she has felt and thought and how she is trying to come to terms with her feelings of loss and failure. but she begins it by discussing her married life and her husband’s physical and emotional abuse. uncertainty. The letter that she writes does not at first glance appear well organized. by describing her husband’s familiarity with her mole and their conflict. Although the structure of the letter initially appears chaotic. The letter reveals how little the husband with whom she has lived so long knows of her life. Sayoko shows her husband how strongly she thought and felt and suffered as the result of his annoyance with her habit. unable to communicate. trying to explain how it is she has come to be defined as a bad wife. Style and Technique The story’s epistolary form offers Sayoko distance to put her experience in perspective and gives her privacy for serious reflection. Although physically harmless. is at least an attempt to reach out. Meanwhile. She now sees that the habit of wrapping herself in her own arms absently was itself a defense against him. the enigmatic mole is emotionally malignant in Sayoko’s life.In her letter Sayoko is working on her life. or love that is revealed in the letter. a form of self-protection. The mole represents a kind of deformity that makes her the object of others’ pity and disgust. the letter establishes context for him and provides the reader with an essential comprehension of the dream itself. It elicits others’ arbitrary negative assessments of her and her body that are destructive of her well-being. trying to make sense of it. Moles seem to develop with age. The mole comes to represent the way in which she is turned in on herself. During Sayoko’s exploration of her own experience. even though the dream that is its declared subject is not described until very late. The letter. as stigmata of experience. The central image of the story is the mole. as well as her husband’s refusal to accept and love her and the failure of their marriage. Its purpose is to report a dream to her husband. The epistolary form evokes an intense awareness of the audience addressed while at the same time preserving the interiority of the narrator’s stream of consciousness. the mole gains many levels of meaning as it comes to represent the woman and her relationship to her own body. it is quite logical. guilt. She has been able to go back in time and question her mother on the origin of the mole.
until it was “bigger than a bean. Although the dream’s message is cryptic.” In this second component of Sayoko’s letter. she offers her husband and the reader the additional context for the dream in her dialogues with her mother on body image and feelings of self-worth. . Truly the dream is the climax of her life to this point. Only near the end of the letter does Sayoko tell her husband the story of her dream that she mentions in the first line. it reveals Sayoko’s pain and anger. bit by bit during childhood. Her offer of the liberated mole “like the skin of a roast bean” and her demand that her husband take it into his own body express the beginning of her new capacity for physical and emotional self-assertion. just as it is the climax of her letter.worthlessness grew.
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