July 25th, 2018

book talk // the gate.

In The Gate, Natsume Sōseki manages to elevate the banal circuitousness of daily life into something transcendent that caused me to question my understanding of happiness, self-contentment, and taking control of one’s own life.

Sosuke and Oyome have spent their adult lives living with their heads down, guilty and filled with a self-imposed shame. They take so much of what appears to be in actuality random chance onto their own shoulders, letting it seep into their lives so deeply that it defines their very souls (Oyome’s miscarriages, Yasui dropping out of school — even though it seemed like he planned to anyway). In their martyrdom, I wonder if they give themselves too much credit for the misfortunes of both their own lives and the lives of others. How much is fault and how much is fate or chance? Ultimately, their life of quiet monotony is one of their own making, and, though they do possess the ability to break out of it, simply can’t, or won’t.

It’s interesting, because I have seen many readers assume initially that they are an elderly couple, but it’s revealed they’ve only been married for six or seven years. This is shocking, I think, as they live such unimpressive lives. They also deeply resent the upsetting of their routines. However, their relationship is still one that invites a certain envy. “Sosuke and Oyone were without question a loving couple. In the six long years they had been together they had not spent so much as half a day feeling strained by the other’s presence and they had never once engaged in a truly acrimonious quarrel. … They dwelled in the city as though living deep in the mountains.” 

Not much happens in the novel, but the meandering narration and carefully described backgrounds carry the story along. Later, Sosuke, in desperation to figure out a solution to a social problem (one that preferably involves his continued method of avoidance) spends ten days at a Zen temple attempting to clear his mind. However, he emerges with no greater enlightenment. Sosuke determines that he is not brave enough to walk through the metaphorical gate and gain a different perspective of the possibility of his life, and walks out the literal gate of the Zen temple without any ill feeling for this reality. “He was someone destined neither to pass through the gate nor to be satisfied with never having passed through it. He was one of those unfortunate souls fated to stand in the gate’s shadow, frozen in his tracks, until the day was done.”

Thus, the book ends much as it began, with the couple companionably sitting together, watching yet another change of season, the sun glimmering with the promise of still another tomorrow where nothing terrible will happen, but nothing interesting either.

Rating: 5/5
Recommended for:
 fans of Japanese literature / classics in other languages