Red Cocoon

Generally speaking, the purpose of most forms of artistic expression such as
literary art, music, or art itself is a mode by which the author can express
him/herself with. They use their respective skills and/or interests to convey
feelings or thoughts on any given topic. Short fiction is by no means exempt
from this. Many writers use their literary skills to express dreams,
aspirations, opinions, or even political viewpoints. In order to make a
dertermination of a probable origin for a story, research into the authors life
and beliefs most likely will prove benefical. With this in mind, Abe Kobo’s
story “The Red Cocoon” seems to be a prime example of an author expressing
his political viewpoints and his personal conflicts with society through
literature. Given this, researching his life and political stance might help to
support or negate such an assumption. “The Red Cocoon” begins with a man
walking down a street discussing with himself the problem of not having a house
to go home to. The narrator, who is also the main character, jumps abruptly from
topic to topic throughout the story, but this reoccuring theme of the lack of a
house seems to be a central idea. As the narrator comtemplates, he wonders if he
has just forgotten his house and proceeds to knock on the door of a random house
to find out if this is what has happened. After he has explained his plight to
the woman who answers the door, he begins arguing with her over having proof
that it is not his house. Shortly thereafter, the narrator begins to ponder
wether or not things such as concrete pipes or park benches are his house.


Deciding that they are on their way to belonging to someone or that they belong
to everyone and not just one person, he begins to wonder if anything exsists
that belongs to no one. At the end of the story, he finds that one of his legs
begins to unwind into a silk thread and wrap him up in a cocoon. Abe Kobo’s
story is quite abstract and seems to have little meaning. In fact, that is just
the opposite. After reading some information about Abe Kobo, the story seems to
take on a new meaning. Abe Kobo is considered to be one of the leading authors
during the post-WWII era of Japanese history. Many of his works use what was
then radical artistic methods of literature (“Abe Kobo”). In his early
childhood, Abe was living in Manchuria which was occupied by the Japanese at the
time. Being born in Japan, altough Abe felt strong ties to the chinese, he was
left feeling like an outsider and rejected by both societes. After the war, Abe
became more and more antinationalist and was interested in marxism and
communism. Soon, he even joined the Japanese Communist Party (“Abe Kobo”).

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He was quite involved in political issues at this time and many of his early
writings preceding the early 60’s deal with his issues about society says
Clerk and Seigal in Modern Literatures of the Non-Western World (136). With this
information about Abe Kobo, an interpretation of “The Red Cocoon” emerges
with heavy political and social tones. The narators central problem of
attempting to find out why he does not have a house seems to point to not only
Abe’s feelings of isolation during his childhood, but also his socialist
political viewpoints at the time. “The Red Cocoon” was written in 1949, a
period of Abe’s life when he was a strong political activist (Clerk and Seigal,
136). Utopian marxist or communist views on society center around a flat
heirarchial structure where no one is more powerful or of a higher class than
any other. The property of the country is reffered to as property of everyone
and ownership is somewhat denounced in the strictist forms of the political
stance. Abe’s character in “The Red Cocoon” seems to be having problems
with ownership of houses and other pieces of property. The question is asked,
“Even if it isn’t mine, can’t there be just one thing that doesn’t
belong to anyone?” This question appears to have socialist undertones as if
one were in support of everything being everyone’s. A strange yet interesting
parralism is with Samuel Beckett’s character in Watt. The character has a very
hard time dealing with the issue of time and is isolated because of that
problem. Similarly, Abe’s character is isolated because of his lack of
understanding possesions. As stated before, this situation with the main
character also points back to Abe’s feelings of isolation during his
childhood. It seems that Abe is showing a part of himself through his character;
both Abe and his character feel somewhat rejected and not quite fitting in. Even
with women it seems since the narrator is coldly rejected by a woman and states,
“…the woman turns her face into a wall and shuts the window. That’s the
true form of a woman’s smiling face.” Possibly, Abe had also been rejected
by a woman over some matter and his conveying his feelings about that in this
statement. The end of the story appears to me to be more complex and intricate
than the rest of the story. I have a difficult time determining what is meant by
the narrator being unwound and wrapped in a cocoon other than the narrator’s
complete isolation from the rest of the world. I have inclinations to believe,
though that there are politcal issues that are underlying this part of the
story, but I’m unsure exactly what. What is somewhat obvious, though is that
Abe is attempting to show how these issues that he has brought up, such as
possessions, isolation of an individual, etc., can cause one to isolate
themselves to the point of becoming fearful of contact with others or even
death. Also, it leads me to believe that Abe is stating that the only way he
feels at home at all is to be by himself, an obivious branch off his problems
growing up. The last line of the story is of some interest, however. Here, the
narrator has been completely enveloped in the cocoon and his whole body has been
unwound and incorporated into the cocoon itself. A policeman comes by and sees
the cocoon lying on railroad tracks and picks it up. The policeman takes the
cocoon and places it in his son’s toy box. Earlier in the story, the policeman
had showed up in a small role to forcefully remove the narrator from a park
bench. Keeping in mind that the story possibly has a motivated political opinion
built in, it is likely that the policeman represents the government of power.


So, it appears that the government Abe is talking about has lead to the
isolation of Abe and contributed to his feelings of neglect. The last
circumstance of the cocoon being placed in the toy box quite possibly means that
the government has not taken the movement of Abe’s politcal party seriously
and has considered it a joke. Abe’s story is full of symbolism and underlying
meaning in my view. It is very interesting that he write such an intricate and
abstract piece of literature and still get a message across. As in the case of
many works of art, a little knowledge of the originator will very likely be of
some help in detereming the meaning of the work as well as the motives they had
for producing it. Art, in all forms, is an extension of the self and knowing a
little bit about someone else will help you in understanding them and their
work.

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