The Big Wave

Introduction to The Big Wave

Written by the American author, Pearl S. Buck, the novel, The Big Wave, first appeared on the bookshelves in 1948 and instantly captured a huge readership of children including adults. The novel not only proved seductive but also a popular children’s story on account of the foreign elements it included in the simple storyline of a Japanese village. The novel won Child Study Association Book Award within a year after the publication, though, she won the Nobel Prize far back in 1938, ten years before the publication of this novel.  Pearl S. Buck collaborated with Tad Danielewski to build this script for television (1956), and the show played amazingly well for critics.

Summary of The Big Wave

The storyline starts with the protagonist, a young boy, Kino, living on his ranch on the mountainside in Japan. The mountain is located high above the coastal area, while a village of fishermen rests on the seashore that he could have a glimpse of from above the mountain top. He watches this scene every day and asks his father many questions besides visiting that village of the fishermen to meet his friend, Jiya, the son of the local fisherman. Sometimes he asks his father unusual questions about the ocean, nature, the volcano, their home, farmhouse, fishermen and the castle located near the village of the fishermen and his father always satisfies his curiosity about nature, its working, the sea, the waves, the volcano, and its intermittent eruption.

Soon it so happens that a huge wave arises in the ocean and wipes out the village in no time before the very eyes of Kino and Jiya. Both watch this scene from above but have heard the ringing of the bells from the castle of the Old Gentleman, who takes care of the people. When Kino asks the reason for the ringing of the bells, his father responds that it is the sign of the arrival of a storm and the warning of the Old Gentleman to the locals to enter his castle to save their lives. However, not all the fishermen heed his warning and some of them perish with their houses when the waves recede. Jiya’s father sends him up to the hill to Kino’s farm but Jiya’s family gets washed out in the sea. Jiya faints when he learns about this.

It, then, happens that Jiya starts living with the family of Kino but he keeps sleeping most of the time. When Kino asks his father the reason for his long sleep, he tells him that it is better for him to sleep and then weep when he gets up to release his pent-up emotions. It would normalize his life. However, Kino and Setsu, his young sister, are very happy with the arrival of Jiya in their home as they now have one more person to play with. One day an Old Gentleman arrives at their house to inquire about Jiya and asks them if he could take him as his son. Kino’s father agrees on the condition that if Jiya wants to go with him, he has no objection. When finally Jiya wakes up, he visits the Old Gentleman and resolves to build his hut from scratch to start fishing again after collecting some money by working on the farm of Kino’s father but refuses to be the son of Old Gentleman, who regrets his decision. However, Kino’s father respects his decision of keeping his traditional profession and traditions alive.

Time passes by and Kino grows up to be a strong man. He works on the farm but, eventually decides to go back to the sea. Kino’s father respects Jiya’s decision and starts paying him wages. Jiya saves this money to buy a boart. Finally, he sets up his bamboo shack and turns it into a good home on the seashore. He also purchases a good fishing boat and starts fishing. The Old Gentleman becomes happy at this self-rehabilitation of Jiya but regrets his decision of not living in his castle as his son. When Jiya is able to live an independent life, he expresses his desire with Kino’s father to marry his daughter to which he happily agrees. Yet, Kino fears that the new couple may face the risk of another big way in which they could perish but Jiya expresses his resolution of living in the face of risks. These thoughts touch the heart of Kino’s father and he permits them to live their own independent life in their home on the seashore.

Major Themes in The Big Wave

  1. Life: Life is the central theme of the novel, The Big Wave. When Kino inquires his father about the fishermen’s village and the risk that it faces from the big wave, he informs that that their farm is equally at risk of the volcano whose eruption could jeopardize their lives. When Kino expresses his concern about Jiya and his family, his father tells him that life lived surrounded by risks is a life worth living. The risk could be anywhere whether it is their farm or the village of the fishermen. However, there is one place where he sees life quite safe that is the castle of the Old Gentleman, though, Jiya does not accept the offer of the Old Gentleman to be his son only because his life could be safe. In fact, he has also learned that bravery is to live in danger and lead a life as a normal person, for one or the other day this life is to perish.
  2. Death: Death is another significant theme of the novel. When Kino first learns about it from his father, he becomes a bit worried. The more he learns about death as a natural happening in one’s life and the departure of the soul from this earth, the more he becomes worried. Death strikes him first when he sees the fishermen’s village disappearing in front of his eyes, yet his father’s argument is that death will come at every cost. That is why his argument has satisfied Jiya who looks in the death’s face and establishes his house at the same place where his forefathers have lived, rejecting the Old Gentleman’s offer of security, safety, and adoption.
  3. Love: Although it is not the primary focus, as a secondary theme love emerges when Jiya feels it about Kino’s strong family relations. Love emerges as the prime focus of Kino’s life too, whom his father teaches to love life even though it is at the risk of perishing at any time in the wake of an ocean on the one side and a volcano on the other side. This is the sheer love of the profession and his ancestors that Jiya reaches the coast and starts life afresh after marrying Setsu, his real love.
  4. Social Norms: A relatively secondary theme, social norms emerge in the shape of staying on the grounds and space where forefathers have lived and do what the ancestors have done. It is a tradition for Kino to stay and work on his farmland and for Jiya to stay in his village and do fishing. That is why he returns to his land despite coaxing the Old Gentleman to be his son and live in the old castle. He rather goes to the seashore and builds his hut again to start his ancestral norm of fishing.
  5. Nature and Natural Forces: The novel shows the theme of nature as a blessing in disguise as well as nature as a threat to life if its forces are unleashed without warning the human beings. When Kino, his family, and Jiya and his father are leading their lives in the natural environment, they have a blissful conjugal life. However, when the natural forces, either in the shape of the big wave or the eruption of the volcano, are unleashed, most human beings become the fodder of the wrath of nature. Yet, they are to live their lives in the same environment as Jiya decides by the end.
  6. Human Resilience: The Big Wave shows human resilience in that despite living between Scylla and Charybdis, Kino’s father teaches him that it is better to live in the presence of death instead of beyond it, for it makes a person strong and brave. Kino tells the same to Jiya whose entire family has perished in the big wave of the ocean. Therefore, when he returns, marries Setsu, and starts life afresh on the same coast despite the risks of facing the big wave again, it shows human resilience and fortitude.
  7. Human Relationships: The novel also shows the theme of human relations that whatever happens, human beings are capable of forging relations with each other in the face of the worst. When Jiya and Kino see each other, they become happy due to their having the same age and same thinking. When Jiya sees all his family perishing before his eyes, he freezes for a few days but again starts living after forging new relations with Setsu as his wife and Kino as his brother-in-law.

Major Characters of The Big Wave

  1. Jiya: Not only is Jiya the central character but also the protagonist of The Big Wave in that it is he who shows human resilience, fortitude, bravery, and courage despite seeing his entire family perishing in the coastal wave. Interestingly, Jiya, later the son-in-law of Kino’s father, shows his philosophy of pragmatism that death is always there to make people strong and brave, though, he has mostly taught this to his son rather than the son-in-law. Although this lesson of Kino’s father and his father-in-law is strong in terms of making the new generation understand the laws of nature and live to abide by them, it has been aimed at his son, Kino, and not Jiya. Also, its practical manifestation comes through Jiya, who starts life afresh after mourning some days and proposes to marry Setsu. Only a person having such guts could reject the offer of the Old Gentleman to be his son, having a life of protection and security in his old castle. And Jiya does it without feeling any regret which has made him somewhat a classical hero.
  2. Kino: Despite being a secondary character, Kino is significant in that he urges his father to present his philosophy of living while facing death with bravery. A quizzical character, he often asks his father about his views on life and death, his life on the farm, their life between the ocean and the volcano. However, he does not show the application of this philosophy of his father. Rather, he becomes a friend of Jiya, a boy of the fisherman from another village whom he adores as his friend. He waits for him to come out of his stupor after witnessing his father’s home perishing with his family in the big wave. Kino, then, becomes his brother-in-law after he marries his sister, Setsu.
  3. Kino’s Father: Despite being an important persona in the drama of The Big Wave, he stays anonymous throughout the novel. However, it is he who displays his philosophy in response to the questions posed by Kino. His philosophy comprises facing death with courage and bravery, thinking that it is part of life and that life is to continue. However, it is his son-in-law, Jiya, who demonstrates the practical application of his philosophy and not his son.
  4. Kino’s Mother: The role of Kino’s mother comes into play only when Jiya starts sleeping for long hours at their home after his family perishes in the big wave. She takes care of Jiya in the absence of her husband, takes care of his eating times and sleeping times, and consoles him when he wakes up. Other than this, her role is limited to doing domestic work and taking care of the home, food of the children, and the farm in the absence of her husband.
  5. The Old Gentleman: This mysteriously brave figure appears a few times in the novel. First Kino’s father mentions him as having an old castle that does not seem accessible to all. Jiya also mentions him but without having any specific details. The Old Gentleman also warns the fishermen about the big wave but they do not leave their houses. In the end, he proposes Jiya to be his son, but he declines, leaving the Old Gentleman to feel regret over his refusal.
  6. Jiya’s Mother: Exactly like Kino’s mother, she also appears in the novel for a short time, is shown engaged in taking care of her children and preparing food.
  7. Setsu: As a young girl, Setsu appears in the novel a few places; first when Jiya visits them, she finds him a good companion to play with, and second when Jiya comes there permanently after his family perishes. For the third time, she becomes Jiya’s wife and makes him start life afresh on the coast, having their own hut.

Writing Style of The Big Wave

Told in the third person narrative, the novel is written for children as a reading book. Its setting is a remote island and mountain on its side in Japan. The sentences are very short that seem suitable for young readers. Diction is quite simple, formal, and direct. For literary devices, the author has relieved on similes, metaphors, and personifications.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Big Wave

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the life of two Japanese boys, Kino and Jiya, the risks and threats to their social lives, and Jiya’s courage, resolve, and fortitude to start life afresh after the big wave sweeps his village. The falling action occurs when he rejects the proposal of the Old Gentleman to be his son. However, the rising action occurs when the big wave sweeps the whole village in front of his eyes.
  2. Alliteration: The Big Wave shows the use of alliteration at several places such as,
    i. At last the steam grew so strong that it forced its way through to the mouth of the volcano. That day, as he helped his father plant turnips, Kino saw the sky overcast halfway to the zenith. (Chapter-1)
    ii. He will sit sad and quiet. (Chapter-II)
    Both of these examples from the novel show the use of consonant sounds such as the sound of /s/, /h/, and again /s/ occurring after an interval to make the prose melodious and rhythmic.
  3. Antagonist: The sea, the volcano, and the natural forces are the antagonists of the novel as they appear to cause difficulties for Jiya and his parents as well as Kino and his parents.
  4. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between man and nature and the internal conflict is going on in the mind of man such as Jiya is thinking about the natural forces like that of his friend Kino.
  5. Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Jiya, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel after he marries Setsu and settles on the coast. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Kino, his father, his mother, and the Old Gentleman.
  6. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when the big wave sweeps away the village of Jiya.
  7. Deus Ex Machina: The novel shows the use of deus ex machina such as,
    i. “Yes, it can,” Jiya insisted. “Sometimes the old ocean god begins to roll in his ocean bed and to heave up his head and shoulders, and the waves run back and forth. Then he stands upright and roars and the earth shakes under the water. I don’t want to be on the island then. (Chapter-1)]
    The mention of supernatural elements such as the old ocean god and its different movements show the use of deus ex machina in the novel hellbent on causing the disturbance in the world of man.
  8. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows such as,
    i. Jiya lived in the last house in the row of houses toward the ocean, and his house did not have a window toward the sea either. “Why not?” Kino asked him. “The sea is beautiful.” (Chapter-1)
    ii. “But why should he be angry with us?” Kino asked. “We are only two
    boys, and we never do anything to him.”
    “No one knows why the ocean grows angry,” Jiya said anxiously. (Chapter-I)
    The mention of the ocean and its anger shows that something is bad going to happen in the story.
  9. Imagery: The Big Wave shows the use of imagery such as;
    i. The sun sparkled deep into the clear water, and the boys swam over the silvery surface of rippling waves. Beneath them the water was miles deep. Nobody knew how deep it was, for however long the ropes that fishermen let down, weighted with iron, no bottom was ever found. Deep the water was, and the land sloped swiftly down to that fathomless ocean bed. When Kino dived, he went down—down—down, until he struck icy still water. Today when he felt the cold grasp his body he understood why Jiya was afraid, and he darted upward to the waves and the sun. (Chapter-I)
    ii. The water was often phosphorescent and gleamed as though lamps were lighted deep beneath the surface. Once a bright fish lay dead on the rocky shore. In the dark cave it glittered in their hands, but when they ran with it into the sunshine, the colors were gone and it was gray. When they went back into the cave, it was bright again. (Chapter-I)
    These two examples show images of color, sound, and feelings.
  10. Metaphor: The Big Wave shows good use of various metaphors such as;
    i. “No one knows why the ocean grows angry,” Jiya said anxiously. But certainly the ocean was not angry this day. The sun sparkled deep into the clear water, and the boys swam over the silvery surface of rippling waves. Beneath them the water was miles deep. (Chapter-I)
    ii. Now he ran out on the beach and saw it sinking toward the west and he
    called to Kino. (Chapter-I)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows the ocean angry like a man and the second shows the sun sinking like something heavy.
  11. Mood: The novel, The Big Wave, shows a very pleasant mood in the beginning but turns out highly tragic in the middle until it demonstrates a happy and jubilant mood again.
  12. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Big Wave, are the earth, the sky, the ocean, and the water.
  13. Narrator: The novel, The Big Wave, has been narrated by the third-person narrator, who happens to be Pearl S. Buck.
  14. Parallelism: The novel shows the use of parallelism such as,
    i. Ocean is there and volcano is there. (Chapter-1)
    ii. They studied reading and arithmetic and all the things that other children learn in school. (Chapter-1)
    iii. On days when the sky was bright and the winds mild the ocean lay so
    calm and blue that it was hard to believe that it could be cruel and angry. (Chapter-1)
    These three examples show the parallel structure of the sentences.
  15. Paradox: The novel shows examples of paradox such as,
    i. Someday he will accept their death as part of his life. (Chapter-2)
    ii. “Because the volcano is behind our house and the ocean is in front, and
    when they work together for evil, to make the earthquake and the big wave,
    then we are helpless. Always many of us are lost.” (Chapter-3)
    Both of these examples show that the writer has put paradoxical ideas or things together.
  16. Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
    i. “Sometimes the old ocean god begins to roll
    in his ocean bed and to heave up his head and shoulders, and the waves run
    back and forth. Then he stands upright and roars and the earth shakes under
    the water. I don’t want to be on the island then.” (Chapter-I)
    ii. Yes, he could remember the great yawning mouth of the volcano. He had
    looked down into it and he had not liked it. (Chapter-I)
    iii. “Look, Father!” he cried. “The volcano is burning again!”
    His father stopped and gazed anxiously at the sky. “It looks very angry,”
    he said. “I shall not sleep tonight.” (Chapter-1)
    iv. Yes, he will be happy someday,” his father said, “for life is always
    stronger than death. (Chapter-2)
    v. “How cruel it seems for the sky to be so clear and the ocean so calm!”
    Kino said. (Chapter-2)
    These examples show as if the ocean, the volcano, life, and the sky have life and emotions of their own.
  17. Protagonist: Jiya is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry into the story shortly after the description and narration of Kino but ends with his settling down in his village.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel, The Big Wave, is an island and mountainous region in Japan.
  19. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as,
    i. The fields were terraced by walls of stone, each one of them like a broad step up the mountain. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The water was often phosphorescent and gleamed as though lamps were lighted deep beneath the surface. Once a bright fish lay dead on the rocky shore. (Chapter-I)
    These are similes as the use of the words “like” and “as” show the comparison between terraced walls with a broad setup and the gleaming water with lamps.