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J. Francisco Valle Soto


Candidate n. 001415 -062
English A1 HL WL Essay Paper I
Word count: 1532

Concurrence of death and love in Mikage and Yuichis relationship.


Close analysis of a passage from Banana Yoshimotos Kitchen

Valle Soto J. Francisco

Session 2012

Candidate n. 001415 -062

The affinity of love with death echoes in the bizarre nature of Mikage and Yuichis relationship
in Banana Yoshimotos Kitchen. In this novella the author depicts two complex characters,
whose misery both merges their lives and prevents them from bonding. Yuichi and Mikage are
afflicted by a thick air of fatality that surrounds them, shaping their existence. Forsaken and
vulnerable as they are, they cannot find the consolation they crave, and are lost in utter
confusion. In the extract that I will analyze, Yoshimoto reveals, through Mikages internal
discourse, the essence of their relationship, cursed by the parallelism of their troubled
existences, exposing the fears that separate them.
To a large extent this passage (Yoshimoto pgs66-67) is profoundly connected to its context,
as it follows a turning point in the novel: Erikos death and Yuichi and Mikages reuniting. After
a time of morbid self-mortification and alcoholism, Yuichi acquires the courage to call Mikage
and announce the murder of his mother Eriko. Before this point their quasi-fraternal friendship
had undergone a rather long and taciturn separation since Mikages departure from the
Tanabes apartment. After an exuberant and restoring dinner, Yuichi falls asleep, and shes left
alone in the stillness of the lugubrious night.
Mikages thoughts are strictly related to the utter emotional confusion that surrounds her, and
they epitomize the nature of her being and the bond with Yuichi. She illustrates this with a
rather somber allegory, for she depicts Yuichi and herself standing over the cauldron of hell
(2). With this imagery Yoshimoto alludes to their proximity to an earthly damnation, more
grievous than mere death. The spiritual despair that they undergo after the death of their
relatives makes them reel (4), dizzy and confused while staring into the bubbling red sea of
fire (3), symbolizing the prospect of a desolate and afflicted existence. In this infernal picture
Mikage pictures herself side by side with Yuichi, while yet they are still divided. There is

Valle Soto J. Francisco

Session 2012

Candidate n. 001415 -062

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between Yuichi and Mikage a sense of constant separation in spite of their ostensible
nearness and intimacy. Yoshimoto illustrates this paradox through the repetition of the adverb
even though (4-6), while omitting a main opposing clause, which is implied to be: we are
still distant. Moreover the length of the incomplete subordinate clause and its reiteration have
the effect of reproducing Mikages rushed thoughts.
Mikage shifts perspective abruptly, from describing an unnatural disconnectionparticularly
physical: we dont join hands (7)to exposing an instinctive and intrinsic captivation. Posing
the rhetorical question: dont we think of each other [as a] [] man and a woman in the
primordial sense? (11-13), she reveals a spontaneous and passionate attraction, resembling
expressions of love. This phrase denotes a transformation in Mikage, that after the death of
Eriko,who had taken a maternal role in her lifefor the first time pictures Yuichi as a lover
rather than just a brother. Mikage infers that the jet-black gloom (1-2) and the
dreadful[ness] (14) of their existences are too antithetic and hence incompatible with any
sentiment other than woe, and It is no place where two people can create a life together
(14-15). The juxtaposition of love and death epitomizes the nature of the characters
relationship, where sorrow and mournfulness drown the instinctive fondness and allurement.
In Kitchen, the protagonists seem powerless and resigned when facing their fate, living amid
reality and nightmares. The first paragraph of the passage appears as Mikages narration,
detached from the situations occurrences. It differentiates from the rest of the text for its use
of the present tense, as describing an immediate image: e.g. [we] are climbing (1), we peer
[] (2). Furthermore Mikage directly alludes to the paragraph as the recitation of her
imaginings when subsequently she mentions that she had been [] daydreaming until then
(16). The similarity of the characters reality with their nightmares eventually results in them

Valle Soto J. Francisco

Session 2012

Candidate n. 001415 -062

fading together, as mentioned once by Mikage when she says that In the endless repetition
of other nights, other mornings, this moment too, might become a dream (pg41). There is an
analogy with a previous situation in the novel, when Mikage is portrayed alone, crying while
Yuichi is asleep: I wonder if Id woken Yuichi with my cryingor was he in the throes of a
heavy, painful dream? (pg54). Yet this recurrent image also reflects their restrain from
admitting that they are baffled by their feelings, which discourage them from planning a future
together.
Although they approach their future as if it was unalterable fate, Mikage acknowledges it is
their separation is product of their insistence to [stand] on [their] own two feet (8). This
unwillingness to reciprocally expose their vulnerability could be interpreted either as pride and
dignity or as wariness and distrust, originating from their consuetude to lonesomeness. Their
urge to find comfort and alleviation in somebody, cant be appeased by one another, for they
both share a world of sorrow. The long for the comfort and support of a family is made
particularly evident by Mikages fondness for kitchens, as spaces that transmit warmth and
security. Mikage after her grandmothers death; and Yichi following Erikos death, find in
themselves a point of reference in their lives, finding the relief and the affection they seek.
Mikage later reveals the progression of the relationship from mere friendship to an intricate
expression of love, affirming: Until Erikos death my relationship with Yuichi had been
laughing and carefree, but under the surface it had been growing more and more
complicated (pg87).
The imposed solitude, that Mikage insinuates with the image of the narrow ladder (1) where
there is no space for two, is predominating over the passage until the end. Mikage depicts
Yuichi asleep, and smiling she intimates the association with a child, legitimated by the rather
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Valle Soto J. Francisco

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maternal act of pull[ing] the quilt over him (24). This reiterates the motif of reciprocal
nurturing and soothing that predominates over the novel. Mikage and Yuichis love is in fact
impeded by the denial of their reciprocal feelings. However they are unable to conceal their
urge for ease, and glimmers of joy, that they cant find while together. Mikage frequently
constrains herself to smile as she does so by humorously clarifying that she is not crying
over having to wash all those dishes (27), in order to de-dramatize. Her lonely lament in the
dark is caused by her been left behind in the night (28). Not only after the decease of Eriko
and her grandmother, but by Yuichi himself that has felt asleep before [her] (23). She has
listened to his whining and consoled him with encouraging words in spite of being herself on
the verge of tears (pg65), yet she is left alone in the night, filled with uncertainties and
hesitations on the future of their relationship.
Both Mikage and Yuichi characterize for their vivacious approach to death, often defusing
their existential tragedy with irony. Black irony abounds in the novel and in the extract is
accentuated by Mikages uncontrolled laughing. This contrasts her words, for she says the
two lovers (17) symbolizing Yuichi and herself are contemplating a double suicide (1819) and their love will end in hell (19). This gloomy humor remits to her dialogue with Yuichi
immediately after Erikos death, when Mikage asserted: For some reason theres always
death around us [] (pg50) and Yuichi had sarcastically replied by uttering: Maybe we
should go into business. Our clients could pay us to move with people they want dead
(pg55). Mikages laugher juxtaposed with the tears that follow it, reflects her disconcert after
realizing that bond with Yuichi has mutated from a sibling friendship into a passionate love.
This makes their relationship appears sarcastically incestuous: end[ing] in hell, hence
particularly perplexing and embarrassing.

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Their love will end in hell is in fact not only a possible foreshadowing but a clear example of
Yuichi and Mikages solitary and reserved nature that is truly the obstruction for their love. The
connotation of the word end corresponds in this case to the ultimate completion of their love,
which is to be found in the communion of Mikage and Yuichi. Nevertheless Mikage swiftly
disprove what she has stated by asserting that she was certainly no fortune-teller (21).
Yoshimoto addresses to the adversity of their romance which is partly impeded by the
grievance of death while alive, but ironically can be consummated only in the afterlife. As the
novel is narrated in the past tense it appears as a memoir of an older Mikage. Therefore this
could certainly be an allusion to a better future which is implied in the book ending. This
opposes the dream, which is the perception of the younger Mikage, suggesting a future
overcoming of their restrains.
In this extract Yoshimoto exposes Yuichi and Mikages fears, restrains and the denial of their
emotions, that impede their relationship to sprout, yet she suggests a promising ending.
Yoshimoto depicts the true essence of Mikage, as sensitive, perplexed and conflicted heroine,
yet courageous, who alone battles the grievances and adversity of life, from death to love.
Their speechless love is concealed behind the friendly smiles of two secretly timorous lovers,
questioning the nature of their relationship yet unable of articulating and clarifying it.
Word count: 1532

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Bibliography
Yoshimoto, Banana. Kitchen. Trans. Megan Backus. New York: Grove Press, 1993.

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Extract
From Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto
Pages 66 and 67
Yuichi and I are climbing a narrow ladder in the jetblack gloom. Together we peer into the cauldron of hell. We
stare into the bubbling red sea of fire, and the air hitting our
faces is so hot it makes us reel. Even though were
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standing side by side, even though were closer to each


other than to anyone else in the world, even though were
friends forever, we dont join hands. No matter how forlorn
we are, we each insist on standing on our own two feet. But
I wonder, as I look at this uneasy profile blazingly

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illuminated by the hellish fire, although we have always


acted like brother and sister, arent we really man and
woman in the primordial sense, and dont we think of each
other that way? But the place we are in now is just too
dreadful. It is not a place where two people can create a life

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together.
Although I had been earnestly daydreaming until
then, I suddenly started to laugh. I see two lovers looking
over the edge of the cauldron of hell. Are they
contemplating a double suicide? This means their love will

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end in hell. I couldnt stop laughing.


Valle Soto J. Francisco

Session 2012

Candidate n. 001415 -062

I was certainly no fortune-teller.


Yuichi was fast asleep on the sofa. From the smile
on his face he seemed pleased to have fallen asleep before
me. He didnt bat an eyelash when I pulled a quilt over him.
I washed the enormous pile of dirty dishes as quietly

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as possible, and I cried and cried. Of course it wasnt over


having to wash all those dishes; I was crying for having
been left behind in the night, paralyzed with loneliness.

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Valle Soto J. Francisco

Session 2012

Candidate n. 001415 -062