Kobayashi Takiji and the Women Question in Proletarian Literature

Dr. Linda Flores, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford

A WREAC 'Identities and Cultures' Cluster Seminar

18.Feb.2009 17.00 - 18.30
Room G.03, 20 Cromer Terrace - Leeds


Kobayashi Takiji is perhaps best known as the author of "Kani kôsen" (The Crab Cannery Boat, 1929), a narrative that captured the spirit of left-wing struggle and oppression in 1920s Japan. The story describes the inhumane conditions on a floating crab cannery boat and the process by which the male labourers come into consciousness, incite rebellion and organise a strike. There are no significant female characters in the story, and the few images of women we encounter amount to little more than female types - prostitutes, loving wives and mothers. However, in Kobayashi Takiji's lesser-known short stories written in the early part of his literary career he wrote a number of works that demonstrated a concern for women as part of the underclass of capitalist society. In these works Takiji portrays women in a variety of contexts - from female prisoners, prostitutes, labourers and child labourers, and activists. Clearly Takiji was profoundly interested in highlighting the plight of women as forgotten members of society, but do his portrayals of women in these works differ from other works of proletarian literature, many of which present women primarily as tropes or mere symbols of capitalist oppression? Through an analysis of the early works of Kobayashi Takiji, this paper seeks to address the following issues: How did Takiji seek to come to terms with the "Woman Question" in proletarian literature?; What role did he envision for women in a capitalist/post-capitalist society?; And importantly, did Takiji regard women as potential agents of the forthcoming revolution?

Dr. Linda Flores is a University Lecturer in Japanese at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University and a Fellow in Japanese at Pembroke College, Oxford. She is a specialist in Modern Japanese Literature with a particular interest in women writers and proletarian literature. Her recent and current projects include the Kobayashi Takiji Memorial Symposium in Oxford (September 2008); a forthcoming article on Kobayashi Takiji entitled, "Women in a Troubled Age: Negotiating Class and Gender in Takiji's ‘Yasuko'"; and a chapter on the writer Hirabayashi Taiko in the forthcoming publication "A Documentary History of Anarchism in Japan". She is also working on a manuscript on the theme of murderous mothers in modern Japanese literature.