Reversal of Power in Haha no Shukusho

Reversal of Power in Haha no Shukusho

I. Main argument: In Haha no Shukusho, Shono Yoriko is able to reverse the power relations between the narrator – the daughter – and the character of her mother through three distinct devices. Through control of her mother's size, her mother's role in the parent-child relation towards her, and through her control of narratives, the narrator of Haha is able to completely turn the tables on her mother; in the end it is the narrator who is in control of their relationship, not her mother. Noting the date of publication of the work – 1994 – it is not surprising that Shono also brings up some of the societal issues prevalent amongst youth at the time (bursting of the bubble, early 1990's) including school refusal syndrome (futoko), withdrawal syndrome (hikikomori), “parasite singles”, and the breakdown of the “enterprise society” (kigyo shakai). I wish to explore the reversals of power between the daughter and the mother in light of these developments to establish Haha as a social critique, which is just one possible reading of the text.

II. Brief discussion of early 1990's Japan, social setting, breakdown of the enterprise society
(1) What was the enterprise society?
▪ Yoda Tomiko: “The Rise and Fall of Maternal Society: Gender, Labor, and Capital in Contemporary Japan”. Japan After Japan. 2006.
(2) In what ways is the situation reflected in the text?
▪ Make up of the family
• Working father, full time housewife mother, student daughter
• Pressure from the parents (mostly the mother) for the child to succeed
• Attitudes of the parents
◦ Father: Aloof, uncaring, not around
◦ Mother: Controlling, pushing her daughter in the realm of education/career, dominating power relationship with her daughter(?)
• Daughter: Depressed, school-refusal syndrome, withdrawal syndrome, parasite single, etc.

III. General description of the three devices used to reverse power relations, and what I will term the “13 stages of reversal”
(1) Reversal of power #1: Physical size
▪ Using size as a means of control
• The importance of the title of the story
• The physical act of “shrinking” someone
◦ Establishing physical control as a means of power
◦ The intersection with the issue of parent-child
(2) Reversal of power #2: Parent-child relationship
▪ How shrinking of the mother figure inverts the normal mother-daughter relationship
• Absence of the father figure (isolating the shrinking of the mother)
• Connection to the reversal via physical control (size)
◦ Parents' physical control over their children
◦ Societal relations/family relations/hierarchy based on size
(3) Reversal of power #3: Control of narratives
▪ How narratives can be used as a form of control
• The narrator is in control of the object of narration
• Placing the mother as the object of narration
• Links to the parent-child issue
◦ Example: “Adventure”/Fairytale aspect
• Different levels of narration (meta-narratives?)
(4) The 13 stages of reversal:
▪ I have divided up the text into 13 distinct sections where the narrator of the story makes a concrete change in the way she deals with the shrinking of her mother
• For each I will discuss and give specific textual examples of which of the three categories of reversals it falls under
▪ The chronological/sequential aspect of the sections

IV. Stages 1-13
(1) Stage 1, page 16, 17: Narrator experiences mother figure shrinking to a size of roughly 7cm. After hearing it numerous times, the mother accepts that her daughter is actually “seeing” her change in height. She begins to ask her daughter, “Today, how many cm's tall am I?” Because she (mother) realizes she cannot control the amount of shrinkage via suggestion or intimidation, she resorts to asking questions rather than giving orders.
(2) Stage 2, page 17, 18: The evolution/progression of the narrator's sickness leads to more changes in her mother, including her mother's voice, her personality, her occupation, her attitude, and her name. However, she remains “Mother” in face and appearance.
(3) Stage 3, Page 18: When the daughter's sickness progresses further, her mother's gender changes to male; however, it's not that her body changes, just the established “setting”(settei). She calls her mother the “mysterious mother-man”.
(4) Stage 4, Page 19: When the narrator's depression (combined with migraines) ramps up, she sees her mother as pitiful, and yet on the other hand noble. Her mother is shrinking because she has taken upon herself the suffering of the world.
(5) Stage 5, p 19-21: The narrations begin (narrations within a narration, narrator of Haha as a narrator herself). If she doesn't narrate she will lose sight of her mother, which is unpleasant (iya).
▪ Stage 5A: By putting in “lies” she is able to freely manipulate the height and form of her mother.
▪ Stage 5B: The narrator begins to change her mother to animals within the narratives, as she runs out of ways to describe her mother using only size comparisons/settings.
(6) Stage 6, p 22, 23: The narrator sends her mother off on “adventures”. The narrator does on-the-spot-relaying of the adventures, which is a further meta narrative (second-level). Her mother's “real” physical state seems to be taking a turn for the worse. Narrator still not free from the crushing power relation to her mother; “Just looking at my mother I was stricken with guilt, and just being with her I wanted to die.”
(7) Stage 7, p 23: The adventures around the house now become parodies of fairytales (this is another of the meta-narratives).
(8) Stage 8, p 23, 24: The narrator moves to patterns hitherto unforeseen. The “story” level just won't do any longer (reference to the previous narrative styles). The next step is to shrink her mother to a level that can't be seen by the naked eye.
(9) Stage 9, p 25, 26: The setting of the story changes: more than 10 years have passed, and the narrator has not left the house, doing nothing but shrinking her mother for all those years. Her father has gone to live in a foreign country, and she (the narrator) is living off of her father as a parasite single. She has tried to leave the house multiple times when she runs out of ideas, but her mother's collapses and her relative's intervention has prevented her from leaving.
Finally, after trying many different methods of shrinking, the “word processor” arrives; the narrator uses this when she's finally run out of other ideas. The first word she writes on the word processor is the word “mother” which she proceeds to enlarge and shrink. Instead of describing her mother as “small”, she describes her mother as being very far away (a perspective issue).
(10) Stage 10, p 26, 27: The narrations stop. Instead she now addresses her mother in a cold voice, and no longer thinks her mother is “pitiful” or “noble”. The only lines said by the mother are ones decided by her daughter.
(11) Stage 11, p 28: The literal change of roles with the narrator becoming the parent (mother) and the mother (shrunken) becoming the child.
(12) Stage 12, p 28-31: Heavy usage of bug metaphors. Their discussions dissolve, no longer a conversation between a mother and child. The mother resorts to trying to convince her daughter of her position in society, the position that all mother's apparently hold, but it is largely ineffective.
(13) Stage 13, p 31: The death or disappearance of the mother figure.