Can weak and feeble always be described as worthless, and strong as a useful individual? Or should they all be considered important and worthy? In “The Aged Mother” by Matsuo Basho, the despotic leader of Shining is a dynamic character who initially believed that anything failing health and strength like old people should put to death, but later on, learns to give importance to the aged folk.
At the beginning of the story, we see the leader of Shining, as a cruel, dictatorial person. He wanted every old person to be abandoned. The author mentions, “The entire province was given strict orders to immediately put to death all aged people” (Basho 1). This depicts the leader’s strong request and beliefs that all the old people are useless and weak. Because the leader was a ‘warrior’, he only wanted strong, healthy citizens in his place. He didn’t want old people, not only because they are incapable, but also for they need a lot of economic support and effort. When the leader saw the elders, he probably saw them as a loser, someone who leaves another obstacle for their bright, sturdy future. According to the text, he also “had a great and cowardly shrinking from anything suggestive of failing health and strength” (Basho 1). This shows his myopic attitude and the governor’s self-centeredness. In this quote, we can see that the character is an unkind ruler who issues a cruel proclamation. However, towards the resolution, he changes his point of view towards the old people. The governor changes into an open minded, considerate leader, and starts to realize the importance of the elders in shaping society. After the truth was told by the poor farmer, the government proclaimed, “Shining needs more than strength of youth” (Basho 2). Originally, the leader thought old people took no contributions in anyways in their society, but later on recognizes that their wisdom and more experienced life is somewhat also beneficial. The astonishing idea of the poor farmer mother’s ideas of burning the twisted straws onto the stone to make a rope of ashes caused him to change his viewpoint. He is, in the end, pleased and reflective as Basho writes, “That very hour the cruel law was abolished and custom drifted into as far a past that only legends remain” (Basho 2).
Usually, in the course of the dynamic character’s change, readers can learn a lesson behind the story. Therefore, considering how the leader changed throughout the book, we can know that the theme is about a mother’s love and giving value to the elders. As we can see from the twigs the mother snapped behind for her son, we can prove that mother’s love is something that no one can explain. Their sacrifice, devotion can be to the extent where it is boundless. From what the leader has learned, we can also reflect ourselves once again that elders should be valued because their varied experiences through their lives teach us wisdom and the rights from wrong.
Furthermore, from what I’ve heard, there has actually been a similar situation that occurred in Korean History. Many Koreans believed there was a time period called the ‘Goryeojang’, an ancient burial practice whereby an elderly are left to die in an open tomb in the mountains, just like what happened in “The Aged Mother”. The whole country had a limited source of food and supplies to provide them to everyone. As a result, few elders were thrown out to a mountain, buried alive. Back at that time, people thought old people have all lived long enough, and also that they were taking up the food sources without bringing any returns. Today, many scholars are still arguing against whether this event was true or not, but this custom serves many students in Korea the lesson to respect and behave well to our parents and aged like the theme shown from the dynamic character in this short story.
In conclusion, the governor is the dynamic character, and the change in the character gave us an idea about the theme of mother’s love and the contribution elders takes in our lives. Every mankind plays an important role in the world, so they should all be worthwhile, and treated equally.
Image Citation: “Short Story: The Aged Mother by Matsuo Basho.” Namaste, www.namaste.in/en/literature/573eb837b2f1dbd356a23364/57eb8f88ebfe246bd8ebd873/detail/short-story-the-aged-mother-by-matsuo-basho.