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Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids – Most Difficult Situation

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  • Pages: 6
  • Word count: 1403
  • Category: Novel

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The boys in Oe’s novel are subjected to extreme difficult situations. Closely refer to the novel for a situation that to your mind is the most difficult. Comment on the manner by which the boys were able or unable to survive by focusing on the impossibility or possibility of the situation and the lessons from such difficulties. Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

Kenzaburo Oe
‘… Don’t forget that you’re vermin here. Even so, we’ll shelter and feed you. Always remember that in this village you’re only useless vermin.’ (Page 45) Those were the words the headman said to the narrator and his comrades when they first arrived in the village in Kenzaburo Oe’s novel, ‘Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids’. This novel tells the tale of fifteen teenage reformatory boys who are evacuated in wartime to a remote mountain village where they are unfairly and irrationally detested as well as feared. Death and war thwart the boys’ attempt to build a new, respected life for themselves as their fate is left at the merciless hands of the villagers and the harsh realities of wartime. The situation which I find was the most difficult for the boys in this novel is when they were left behind by the villagers when the villagers fled the village because of a suspected plague. The day after the narrator and his comrades arrive in the village, they are directed to bury a small hill of decomposing animal carcasses which are suspected to have died due to a plague. A few people from the village had already fallen ill and one had died. After one of the reformatory boys die, the villagers flee from the village in the middle of the night with their cattle and block the boys from escaping with them because they believed that the boys were infected. ‘Ah,’ Minami groaned. ‘Them.’

‘Even the goats,’ said my brother. ‘They’re even taking the cattle.’
‘They’re running away,’ Minami said angrily, suddenly realizing. ‘At this time of the night, they’re running away.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘They’re running away.’ (Page 69) Being abandoned wasn’t uncommon during the Early Showa Period of Japan. Countless people had suffered greatly from World War II through the loss of their homes, belongings, family members and even lives as well as being forced to fend for themselves. Men, young and old had to serve the country in war, rendering them unable to give aid to their family members who endured the harsh conditions. The boys in Oe’s novel though were abandoned, had been left with basic necessities to survive for a few days, thus surviving their predicament was quite possible. The villagers that had left in haste due to their fear of the plague were forced to leave behind a lot of things that served their daily needs such as food and tools, naively thinking that everything would have been left untouched and all would be as usual when they had gotten back home. In fact, the forest nearby was also still inhabited by wild animals, so even if the villagers hadn’t left much to eat, the boys had the option of hunting for the small harmless ones to serve as a way to fill their stomachs.

The boys, having been barricaded in the village, did what they thought was the only option for survival, stealing and scavenging the belongings of the former inhabitants of the village. The reformatory boys had no doubt or hesitation towards taking the villagers’ food. After all, survival was almost a basic instinct and not many or rather no one would have easily given up on surviving in life. The boys had also gone through being abandoned as a group instead of individually, this lessened the chances of a fight over supplies from occurring between them in the early stages. The fact that the reformatory boys had viewed each other as well as Li, the Korean and the runaway soldier as comrades and not competitors lowered their odds at surviving. They were able to take being abandoned lightly after the first two days and had even created their own festival due to their success in their hunt for birds. ‘We’ll cook the birds here and eat them,’ he said. ‘We’ll sing and dance, and the festival’ll go fine like that.

It’s always been that way.’ ‘Let’s do it,’ I said, and the comrades cheered. ‘Let’s have our festival.’ (Page 140) The traditional Japanese society held their honour above even their own lives, thus the boys in Oe’s novel were regarded as vermin and were treated like so by the villagers just because they were reformatory boys. The villagers provided them with food almost inedible to most, if not all human beings, such as coarse salt in small portions and they even had to share the meagre amount of food. They were forced to bury a mountain of bloated animal carcasses, which is a cruel thing to do to children merely the age of fifteen to sixteen. For them to survive through such harsh treatment under the conditions of the cold weather required immense strength both mentally and physically. The lesson learned through these boys’ difficulties is that one must not give up despite being thrown into seemingly dire situations.

Throughout the whole novel, the boys and the narrator were only thriving for one thing: survival. The narrator refused to give in to his dismal predicament of being left for dead by the villagers and at the conclusion of the novel, he is still alive. At the end, the narrator ran deeper into the forest despite the weather and his own physical conditions, driven by fear of the murderous villagers. ‘But I didn’t know what to do to get away through the night forest, flee from the brutal villagers, and escape harm. I didn’t even know if I still had the strength to run anymore. I was only a child, tired, insanely angry, tearful, shivering with cold and hunger. Suddenly a wind blew up, carrying the sound of the villagers’ footsteps growing nearer, closing in on me. I got up, clenching my teeth, and dashed into the deeper darkness between the trees and the darker undergrowth.’ (Page 188-189)

Trusting someone too easily, depending on the situation, may even lead to your own death. The narrator’s biggest mistake, which was the turning point of the plot, trusted someone he barely knew and believed that they would set him free at the end. Ironically, the blacksmith whom the narrator trusted betrayed him as he and the other villagers attempted to kill him. ‘When the trolley stopped, the blacksmith got out, still grasping his weapon, and I followed him. Then suddenly he attacked me, baring his teeth.’ (Page 188) The lesson obtained from this is that we cannot place our trust in someone so easily, more so for the boys as they are trying to brave the degradative treatment of the villagers that could not care less for their well-being and survive in the harsh setting of wartime and suffering. As a whole, the boys in Oe’s novel were mistreated and were lesser than animals in the villagers’ eyes to the end. They were thrown into situations again and again that required them to think on their feet and overcome the problems they had.

The boys were boxed in so completely but in the end, Oe cleverly weaved in a chance of escape by the hand of kindness disguised as contempt. Although the boys were regarded as vermin till the end, the headman decided to save them, cutting them a deal to let them live if they did not reveal to the warden that the villagers abandoned them. ‘All right? If you lot don’t want to end up like that, do as you’re told,’ the headman said after a moment, slowly and menacingly. ‘Admit that nothing happened here and that you saw nothing. Then tomorrow you can start your evacuation properly.’ (Page 182) The headman also ended up sparing the narrator, saying, ‘We could kill you, but we’re going to save you.’ (Page 187) They were seen as equivalent to scum but even in that harsh environment where the author shows us how low the odds of surviving are, the narrator managed to run into the headman who was willing to spare that tiny shred of kindness, and this ultimately gives him another chance at life.

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