Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


Comparative Literature

First Advisor

Meili Steele


World War II effected catastrophic change over much of the world. In the present, this event still affects the lives of many people. In Japan, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the specific terms of defeat, and the adjustment between pre and post-war, massively affected the social imaginary of the nation. This paper seeks to examine the ways in which Japanese people were forced to re-identify what it meant to be Japanese, not only internally, but also internationally, and the struggles and conflicts that arise from the attempt to reconstruct the social imaginary of an entire nation. This paper approaches the post-war Japanese situation from a literary perspective. By examining how social imaginaries are constructed, and the role literature plays in this construction, it is possible to attain a new understanding of not only how and why the post-war social imaginary was constructed in the way it was, but how, by using specific events and perspectives, literature becomes a mediator between history and memory.

Fires on the Plain, Black Rain and Grave of the Fireflies all serve important and specific functions in creating a victim's consciousness during the post-war period. By separating the common man or soldier from the "military," universalizing atomic victimhood, and stressing the suffering of innocent victims, literature acted as a national Bildungsroman, and the victim's consciousness became an integral part of the post-war imaginary. Though contested, and not always the dominant narrative, victimhood is an ever-present theme in post-war dialogue. This becomes problematic in an international arena, in many ways preventing an authentic confrontation with history and memory, and prevents the formation of an authentic Japanese identity. It is an attempt to correct this, to forge this identity, that one can see in the works of Murakami Haruki, particularly The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and "Tony Takitani." This paper synthesizes historical, social theoretical, and literary criticism to examine the social imaginary, victim's consciousness, and identity formation in post-war Japan through literature.


© 2010, Kimberly Wickham