Throughout this entire novel, Kobo Abe crafts themes such as identity, voyeurism, anonymity, and one’s existential place within the world. Each of these is equally represented with numerous examples throughout the course of the book. However, I will be taking a stylistic approach concerning Kobo Abe’s writing of The Box Man. My intentions are to tackle his methods of confusion and address his motives for using these particular methods.
From the beginning, Kobo Abe begins his writing with the bizarre introduction of how to create a box, one of the many steps to becoming a box man. But even before this, the very first sentence leaves the reader in utter confusion. With first and third person narration present, the audience reads on page 1, “This is a recording of a box man. I am beginning this account in a box. A cardboard box that reaches just to my hips when I put it on over my head. That is to say at this juncture the box man is me. A box man, in his box, is recording the chronicle of a box man.”
After the basic concept of the physicality of becoming a box man is explained, Abe gives an instance of where the world is confronted by a true box man, he calls it Case A. When flipping through the pages, I realized that Kobo Abe constructs example cases A, C, and D; yet refrains from incorporating case B. This is an example of how Kobo Abe refuses to stick to the technicalities of society’s norms. I read the entire book without even noticing the lack of case B. It was not until I considered writing on all cases that I was aware that case B was not present. To elaborate further, children are taught at a very young age the beginning letters of the alphabet, and here, Abe refuses in a subtle way, to conform to the norm.
The way in which this book is organized is also very different. Typically books are divided by chapters; however, The Box Man is portrayed in a style that an investigator might use. Throughout the recordings there are various sorts of evidence to support the reality of a box man. There are various intertextual examples of photograph clippings, newspaper articles, and personal testimonies which aid in persuading the reader of the existence of box men. With these included, it makes the book all the more real for the reader. The very fact that the novel is centered around the existence and makeup of a box man, as if this is not obscure enough, Kobo Abe reinforces the existence throughout the entire one-hundred and seventy-eight pages of the novel.
Another example of Kobo Abe’s experimental writing is present on page 45. Appearing upside down on the page is the following sentence, “Suddenly it occurred to me. Somewhere I remembered having seen exactly the same scene as this.” Obviously, we do not normally see text upside down, this is something that is abnormal and is uncommon to typical pieces of writing. Kobo Abe uses this to confuse the reader even more and to cause them to examine why he did this, although the reasoning is nothing more than a shallow purpose.
Page 57 begins a new recording within the document. However, this is a recording from another box man and inserted at random. This recording is labeled, “Three-and-a-Half Page Insert on Different Paper”. Here Kobo Abe further complicates the story and baffles the reader, because we have lost the grasp of who is now narrating the story. Abe does this multiple times, leaving the reader stranded again and again.
With all of these examples given, we are left with a confused novel and quite a few pieces of evidence to prove the existence of a box man. This experimental approach is unclear for the majority of the time, yet when we take a metaphorical approach, everything begins to appear more transparent. Just as this novel is confusing, abnormal, and not as we anticipated or expected, so it is with life. When we are faced with obstacles or feel vulnerable, people have a tendency to retreat from the world and dwell within themselves, so it is also with the box man. Theoretically, we are all box men. We are surrounded by boxes and we live within our own little box.
Kobo Abe creates this piece of art with a surrealistic approach. His writing is not always going to make sense and we are going to be left with many unanswered questions. Furthermore, the unstable character of “I” reigns prominent throughout the entire novel, confusing us once more. With the main character being the box man, it is evident that one must completely remove oneself from the world in order to become a real box man, but is this even possible? The reader must push away their reason and literal understanding in order to be able to comprehend, in the slightest way, how this writing was meant to be interpreted.