Imagery is a technique a writer uses to involve the reader in the story. He does this by appealing to the reader’s senses. Kawabata uses imagery throughout his brief story, beginning with the first paragraph, in which he gives specifics. The university wall is not just a wall but a ‘‘tile-roofed wall’’; the fence is constructed of ‘‘white board’’; and the trees are not just trees but orange and black cherry trees.
Imagery abounds in Kawabata’s passages involving the children’s lanterns. He uses the phrase ‘‘bobbing cluster of beautiful varicolored lanterns, such as one might see at a festival’’ and then lists the individual colors. Just from this brief choice of words, the reader sees in his mind’s eye exactly what the narrator is seeing as he watches those children on their insect chase. Kawabata has put the reader into the story, next to the narrator. In doing so, he makes the scene that plays out between Fujio and Kiyoko come alive, and it is as if the reader is experiencing it, not just reading about it.
Kawabata does the same when he describes in detail the way the children so carefully construct their lantern designs. His child-artists cut ‘‘lozenge leaf shapes in the cartons, colorcoding each little window a different color, with circles and diamonds, red and green. . . . ’’ He again relies on imagery to emphasize the importance of the scene in which Fujio and Kiyoko unknowingly shine their names onto each other. ‘‘ . . . wasn’t the name ‘Fujio’ clearly discernable?’’ Kiyoko’s pattern is not projected as clearly, but could be made out ‘‘in a trembling patch of red on the boy’s waist.’’
First-Person Point of View
Stories can be narrated from several different perspectives. First-person point of view uses the word ‘‘I’’ and is a technique that allows the reader to feel she is not so much reading about something but is somehow sharing in the story itself.
Kawabata’s narrator is talking to his audience directly. As he sees and experiences something, so does the reader. Even though the narrator is not truly involved in the plot of ‘‘The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket,’’ he is on the sidelines and therefore able to get a clear perspective on what is taking place. And because he has that viewpoint, so does the reader. In this case, the first-person perspective makes the story more intimate. Think of the difference between a conversation with a friend and listening to a lecture.
Symbolism in this short story is apparent, but only to a reader who has an understanding of traditional Japanese culture. This very fact is why some stories that get translated into another language tend to lose some of their meaning. In some cases, there is no word for what an author has written, and so a translator must choose the word that has the most similar meaning. Depending on the choice made, the meaning of the text can change.
Kawabata’s respect for traditional Japanese culture is symbolized in ‘‘The Grasshopper and the Bell Cricket’’ in several ways. Of the approximate 1,350 words in the story, about 375 of them are used to describe the colors and intricacies of craftsmanship that go into the construction of the children’s lanterns. That is over one-fourth of the entire story. Lanterns are icons of good luck in the Japanese culture, and in traditional culture, much effort and attention went into the making of them. Even in the twenty-first century, Japanese hold lantern festivals. To devote such a large amount of space in such a brief story to this one aspect signifies its importance.
Colors hold special meaning in traditional Japanese culture. By itself, the color red is believed to protect against evil forces and demons. It is also the color worn by brides and, when combined with white, symbolizes an auspicious or happy occasion. Kiyoko’s lantern light shines red as it reflects her name onto Fujio’s clothing.
Fujio’s name is inscribed on Kiyoko’s breast in green. Originally, there was no word in the Japanese language for the color green. It simply did not exist. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the Japanese language was in flux as new words were being added to reflect the changing culture. One of those new words was ‘‘midori,’’ which means ‘‘green.’’ Before the inclusion of this word, green was considered just another shade of blue. Without seeing Kawabata’s original Japanese manuscript for this story, there is no way to know if he used the word midori or if he used the Japanese word for blue (ao). Either way, Lane Dunlop translated it to mean the color green. Because of its relative newness to the Japanese language, the color green does not hold symbolic meaning.
The color white symbolizes the sacred. It is used in many Japanese rituals, including weddings and funerals. It is also the background of the Japanese flag, which features a red sun (remember: red and white together signify a happy occasion). Kiyoko’s kimono is white. So here we have the interplay of red, white, and green (or blue?). Kawabata uses color to symbolize the innocence and sacredness of youth as well as the potential for the possibility of happiness. Even Kiyoko’s name falls into a similar translation: ‘‘pure, clean child.’’ She symbolizes that which is pure in the world—true love—as well as all the women Fujio will meet in his lifetime, both the grasshoppers and the bell crickets.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Yasunari Kawabata, Published by Gale Group, 2001.