While on the train in the beginning of the novel, Shimamura can recall little of Komako other than her touch and a certain suggestive moistness that point to how he thinks of her mostly as a sensual woman instead of the friend that he originally hoped she would become. Indeed, most of the times when Komako visits Shimamura's room she is heated and giddy with the drink and excitement of whatever party she had just entertained, so his lust for her seems to be well reciprocated. However, Shimamura's calm insistence on continuing to think of Komako in such a way, even after her many personal revelations and attempts to make him understand her feelings as not merely a geisha but a woman in love, primes the fuse for Komako's tragic realization that her love can come to nothing when Shimamura unconsciously switches from calling her a "good girl" to a "good woman."
As an expert in occidental ballet who has never seen an actual ballet but rather draws all his knowledge from books and photographs, Shimamura is not really an expert at all; as he himself admits, he is a man who prefers to dream from his armchair without the threat of being confronted by reality. It is in this attitude that he wonders at the reflection of Yoko's eye in the mirror-like window on the train and the reflection of Komako's red cheek in the mirror in his room. Even when he sees Yoko's unconscious body fall through the fire, he thinks about it more as a phantasm, perfectly horizontal, instead of a person already dead or in danger; and his concern is more so a desire that the image not be broken by the stray movement of a limb, not for Yoko's safety.
If Snow Country is about anything, it is about failed love. Yet, knowing the dispositions of Komako and Shimamura, it is clear that their love is doomed from the beginning, a "waste of effort" which, like the laboriously made Chijimi cloth is nevertheless beautiful in its poignant sadness. Even while she was still an amateur entertainer during Shimamura's first visit, Komako is bound in the restrictive role of professional woman who must please and amuse her guest but can never sustain anything with him. Her desire to enter into something more long-lasting and more significant leads her into a relationship with Shimamura, but since he does not care to empathize with her feelings or help her materially, she can do nothing but hold onto him while he is in the hot spring and await his return when he is back in Tokyo.
Beauty of Nature
The novel describes the snow country in three different seasons for Shimamura's three visits; these are, in chronological order: spring, winter, and autumn. A great deal of attention is paid to all the sense descriptions, from the rust color of grasses on the mountains to the cries of insects, but, perhaps taking the perspective of the image-obsessed Shimamura, things such as the reflection of Yoko's eye over a landscape and the sprawling Milky Way are some of the most vivid.
When Shimamura asked Komako to call him a geisha, he says that it would be "An affair of the moment, no more. Nothing beautiful about it. You know that--it couldn't last" (22). The two of them knew then that if they were to enter into a relationship, even if they tried to extend it beyond a moment, "it couldn't last." Sure enough, Shimamura realizes towards the end of his third visit that he must return to Tokyo despite Komako's best efforts to make him understand her feelings and the increased intimacy the two have enjoyed. This passing of their love is also the waste of Komako's energies, like her catalog of books she has read and the Chijimi cloth. The passing of autumn further accentuates this sad passing away of things.
The novel's love triangle may seem to be the most important shape of character relations, but it is also worth considering adding Yukio to form a quartet. Very little is ever revealed about him, but this trait in fact draws a connection between him and Yoko, setting the two of them off against the main characters, Shimamura and Komako. The more interesting parallel connection is that Shimamura identifies partly with Yukio while Komako does so with Yoko. In effect the pair of minor characters are distillations of specific important parts of the main characters: Yukio embodies Shimamura's desire to lie in the arms of a caring, mother-like young woman; and Yoko, Komako's "burden," is in Shimamura's eyes a kind of perfected Komako, purified of anything but the tragic feminine quality that he finds so attractive. As such, the harsh treatment by Komako and later death of Yukio, and the injury, insanity, or death of Yoko are reflected emotionally upon the Shimamura and Komako, respectively.
The style of the novel holds a great many similarities to haiku in that it tends towards terse descriptions, often of natural scenes, and presents important details implicitly or even in a very concealed manner. For example, Komako's relationship to Yukio and his mother the music-teacher is never very clearly delineated to the reader, but her refusal to go to his deathbed, Shimamura's telling her to forgive Yukio, and her staying away from the cemetery where he is buried imply that she became a geisha to pay for his doctor's bills against her own will; however, she never says this directly. Also, in a climactic scene, Shimamura's switch in word choice from, "You're a good girl," to "You're a good woman" reveals his continued lack of understanding of Komako, even though the difference is very subtle.
Snow Country Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Snow Country is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.