Transcending the Catastrophes and Horrors of History: Atomic Bomb Threat and Activism in Tanaka Chikao’s ‘The Head of Mary’


The moments of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing, along with the Holocaust, is imprinted in our memory to be the most terrible disaster mankind has suffered. The moment was promising to end the most destructive war in human history. It also, paradoxically enough, resulted in another disastrous massacre or what anthropologist Mircea Eliade calls “the catastrophes and horrors of history” that “no longer allow any escape.” Thereafter, the matter of overcoming disaster has been emerging as a new challenge for modern humanity. Japanese playwright Tanaka Chikao (1905-1995), for instance, consciously digs in human reaction and attitude in the face of A-bomb disaster, and at the same time suggests ‘religion’ as an alternative way of overcoming. He brings back to the mundane the God’s word and the subsequent possibility of salvation which has been attacked as unscientific and anachronistic, and finally sentenced to death by the western intellectuals with the dawn of the modern era. Especially, The Head of Mary (Mario no Kubi, 1959) presents these aspects well. Set in the post-war Japan situation, the play deals with the issue of overcoming, or mastery of the A-bomb disaster, in the context of Catholicism. The protagonists in the play portray the human beings helpless before the disaster of the atomic bomb. However, it is worth noting that they do not passively continue their ephemeral existence, assuming wait-and-see attitude. Rather they willingly struggle to do ‘something’ to overcome the given condition. The play gives a clear message of overcoming and activism.

Author Information
Jungman Park, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2017
Stream: Cultural Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon