|“Cardboard Box” (shortstory) by Ryo Hanmura
From Apostolou & Greenberg’s The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989)
|Original: Japanese, 1974
Translated by David Lewis, 1980
|“Contemplated in allegory is the fate of ordinary working people” (28)|
Synopsis: Boxes in a factory become self-aware when their bottoms are taped shut. At the prospect of being filled, they are overjoyed. Once filled with tangerines and brimming with rapture, the boxes meet “a box for pencil boxes” in the loading truck who spins a story of abuse and abandonment which all boxes must face. The protagonist box, however, desires to be filled until no space remains, yet witnesses the death of his cuboid comrades.
Analysis: Kobo Abe’s shortstory “The Flood” was an allegory about the depression of the blue-collared working force and their struggle to find power when oppressed. This short story—one of only two published in English, which is also included in the same collection—is an allegory about the enthusiasm of university students in their diligent move to improve themselves for entering the work force. But the story goes further into their disillusionment when actually entering the work force, a hostile environment when its own perils. And little did they all know, life for them is just a conveyor belt.
After graduating high school, students are given their diplomas; they are deemed educated with the knowledge given them (they are “taped up” yet ubiquitous and numerous). Entering university, they are eager to fill their mental vessels with further knowledge; thus, being overjoyed. After being filled with tangerines (the live-giving fruit of knowledge), the university students meet a jaded professor (“a box for pencil boxes”) who warns them of the drudgery of blue-collar work and its ultimate fate—destruction (breaking down the box). Ever disillusioned, the last enthusiastic student of life endeavors to learn more and more, to be promoted higher and higher even while witnessing the burnout of their peers.
When the result of an education is only to end up as a salaryman, where does the enthusiasm die? How has youthful exuberance been quashed? What lays beyond retirement, what use is a person after their working age?