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Japanese Society in “The Magic Chalk” by Abe Kobo Essay

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Updated: May 27th, 2020

The 1950s – Years of Disorientation for Japan

World War II was one of the most devastating catastrophes humanity had to endure. Admittedly, the 1950s could be called the years of disorientation, despair, and search. It is necessary to add that the winners of the war found themselves in a bit better condition as they knew that they achieved their goals and saved the world from aggressors. As for such countries as Germany or Japan, those nations were defeated, people did not know what could be done. Those people had nothing but emptiness. Beliefs of many were destroyed, and many Japanese people had to find new ideals and new goals to reach.

This disorientation of Japanese people is revealed in the short story by Abe Kobo, “The Magic Chalk.” The author tells a story about the artist who tries to create his own ideal world. However, he fails to do it as he makes two major mistakes: he fails to set particular goals, and he fails to find the proper way to change his life for better. The two mistakes turn the artists into a shadow with no aims, no strength, and no future.

The First Mistake: The Artist Has no Clear Goals

The protagonist of the short story, “poor artist, named Argon,” faces severe financial constraints (Kobo 64). He does not have money to buy any food. He has to sell his furniture; he has to accept his friend’s gesture (sharing a bank worker’s dinner), he even has to eat sewage which he actually steals from a restaurant. The artist does not know what to do and how to change his life. The devastating aftermaths of the war have paralyzed the artist just like they have paralyzed many other Japanese people. The poor artist surrenders his fate and simply drifts with the stream.

More so, when he finds at least some way out, he is not sure what to do with it. He finds out about the magic properties of the chalk but can simply create some ordinary things, the things to satisfy his physical needs (Gessel 3). It is really important to mention that the artist starts by drawing food. Later he decides to change his life, and he starts creating various projects, but all of his sketches remain nothing more than mere drafts. Eventually, the lack of goals makes the artist draw a door to an unclear future. The artist is ready to accept any world. However, he sees that some hypothetical sketches are not enough to build a new, better world. Likewise, many Japanese people who lived in that period did not understand what can come of their effort. They were disoriented and did not have particular aims.

The Second Mistake: The Artists Fails to Choose the Proper Way to Change His Life

It is important to note that the artist does want to change his life, but he is not active enough. He simply sits and waits for something. It is possible to assume that he is waiting for some supreme power to help him. Eventually, he acquires the object which can change his life in a magical way. Argon is happy to have such a tool that promises to change his life for better (Kobo 67). At that, he does not need to do anything special. Some magic force is working instead of the artist, and he does not mind such an option.

Argon relies on some unknown force to build his world. Interestingly, when he feels that creating the new world is a rather time and effort consuming process, he stops trying. Again, he tries to seek an easier way to change the world. He thinks that an unreal woman can help him create his world. However, the artist does not understand that he cannot build an ideal world merely escaping from the real one. The artist does not understand that no one can exist out of the real world.

It is at the very end of the story when Argon understands that “[i]t isn’t chalked that will remake the world” (Kobo 75). However, this understanding is no good for the artist as he turns into the fleshless shadow on the wall. He is transformed by his unreal world. He cannot live outside it anymore. His dreams and his ‘magic’ world absorb him. Notably, when he is completely transformed, he can clearly see the mistakes he has made. It is also possible to draw a parallel between the story and real-life in Japan in the 1950s. Admittedly, many people hoped that some magic power would show them the way out. People’s disorientation made them inert.

The Artist’s Fate and Japanese People’s Choices

The writer deprives Argon of his future. Argon does not have the right to exist in the world if he is not eager to be active. Argon is inert. He tries to escape from the world, and his own world absorbs him. The artist becomes one of the sketches on the wall. He becomes a part of his unreal inert world. Now he is doomed to observe those changes which are yet to happen in the real world. He becomes a fleshless observer of the great changes his country is about to experience.

It is possible to point out that many Japanese people remained as inert as Argon. They did not create anything; they did not come up with ideas. Eventually, they also turned into those who simply followed somebody’s will. Thus, the devastating aftermaths of World War II had different effects on the Japanese people. Some of them tried to act and reach new tops. However, many Japanese people did not have the necessary goals. They were paralyzed. They became Argons, i.e., inert observers of the changes which took place in the real world. They also tended to escape from reality, so they made out their own worlds.


On balance, it is possible to state that Kobo depicts major trends in the society of the 1950s. He reveals the greatest fears of many who could not fit the world devastated by the horrible war. Many people failed to acquire new goals to achieve. Argon can be regarded as one of those people who were too inert to fit the world. Those people tried to escape from the ‘hostile’ world and created worlds of their own. Eventually, those people became observers who could only understand that it was impossible to change the world for better by creating non-existing worlds. They understood that only active, creative, and courageous people could remake the world.

Works Cited

Gessel, Van C. “Introduction.” The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Literature: From 1945 to the Present. Ed. Rimer, J. Thomas and Van C. Gessel. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007. 1-9. Print.

Kobo, Abe. “The Magic Chalk.” The Showa Anthology. Ed. Van C. Gessel and Tomone Matsumoto. New York, NY: Kodansha International Ltd., 1986. 63-75. Print.

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"Japanese Society in "The Magic Chalk" by Abe Kobo." IvyPanda, 27 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-society-in-the-magic-chalk-by-abe-kobo/.

1. IvyPanda. "Japanese Society in "The Magic Chalk" by Abe Kobo." May 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-society-in-the-magic-chalk-by-abe-kobo/.


IvyPanda. "Japanese Society in "The Magic Chalk" by Abe Kobo." May 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-society-in-the-magic-chalk-by-abe-kobo/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Japanese Society in "The Magic Chalk" by Abe Kobo." May 27, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/japanese-society-in-the-magic-chalk-by-abe-kobo/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Japanese Society in "The Magic Chalk" by Abe Kobo'. 27 May.

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