Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A man struggles with his sense of responsibility when faced with the birth of his disabled child.


"A Personal Matter" by Kenzaburō Ōe is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that delves into the complex inner world of a young man facing a crisis. Set in post-war Japan, the story follows the protagonist, Bird, as he grapples with the conflicting emotions brought on by the birth of his son with severe brain herniation and his desire to escape his responsibilities. The novel explores themes of self-discovery, societal expectations, and the pursuit of personal freedom.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The story is set in 1960s Japan, during a time of societal and cultural change. The aftermath of World War II has left a lasting impact on the country, and the characters in the novel navigate a landscape marked by a mix of traditional values and modern influences. Against this backdrop, the protagonist, Bird, finds himself at a crossroads in his life when his newborn son is diagnosed with a severe brain herniation. The news of his son's condition triggers a series of internal and external conflicts that drive the narrative forward.

Main Characters

The novel revolves around the following main characters:

BirdThe protagonist, a young man struggling with conflicting emotions and a desire for personal freedom.
HimikoBird's lover, who supports him through his personal crisis.
The BabyBird's newborn son, diagnosed with a severe brain herniation, whose condition becomes a central focus of the story.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-3: The Birth of the Baby and Bird's Internal Conflict

Bird experiences a mix of emotions when his son is born with a severe brain herniation. He struggles with feelings of resentment and a desire to escape his responsibilities as a father. His internal conflict drives the narrative as he grapples with the impact of his son's condition on his own life and future.

Chapter 4-6: Bird's Escapades and Self-Discovery

Feeling overwhelmed by his new role as a father to a severely disabled child, Bird seeks solace in alcohol and embarks on a series of reckless escapades. His actions reflect his inner turmoil and his desire to break free from his societal obligations. Amidst these escapades, Bird begins to confront his own identity and the possibility of personal freedom.

Chapter 7-9: Himiko's Influence and Bird's Decision

Himiko, Bird's lover, becomes a source of support and encouragement as he grapples with his conflicting emotions. Her presence in his life prompts him to confront the reality of his situation and consider the choices he must make. Bird's internal struggle reaches a critical point as he faces the decision of whether to pursue personal freedom or embrace his responsibilities as a father.

Chapter 10-12: The Journey and Its Impact

Bird embarks on a journey that takes him to unfamiliar places, both physically and emotionally. The experiences he encounters along the way shape his perspective and force him to confront the consequences of his decisions. The journey becomes a catalyst for self-discovery and personal growth, leading Bird to confront the complexities of his own desires and the expectations placed upon him by society.

Main Events

The main events in "A Personal Matter" revolve around Bird's internal conflict, his reckless escapades, his relationship with Himiko, and the pivotal decision he faces regarding his responsibilities as a father. These events drive the narrative forward and shape Bird's journey of self-discovery and personal transformation.

Themes and Insights


Personal Freedom

The novel explores the theme of personal freedom as Bird grapples with societal expectations and his own desires. His internal conflict reflects the tension between the pursuit of personal freedom and the responsibilities imposed by societal norms.

Identity and Self-Discovery

Bird's journey becomes a quest for self-discovery as he confronts his own identity and the impact of his son's condition on his life. The novel delves into the complexities of personal identity and the transformative power of confronting one's innermost desires.

Moral and Ethical Dilemmas

The story raises moral and ethical dilemmas as Bird navigates the difficult decisions he must make in the face of his son's condition. The novel prompts readers to consider the complexities of morality and the implications of personal choices.


Societal Expectations and Individual Agency

The novel offers insights into the tension between societal expectations and individual agency. Bird's struggle reflects the broader societal pressures that shape his decisions and the limitations placed upon personal freedom.

The Complexity of Human Emotions

Through Bird's internal conflict and emotional turmoil, the novel offers insights into the complexity of human emotions. It delves into the depths of human experience, portraying the intricate interplay of love, resentment, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Personal Matter" offers readers a poignant exploration of the human experience, delving into the depths of personal conflict, self-discovery, and the pursuit of personal freedom. Through Bird's journey, readers are prompted to reflect on their own desires, societal expectations, and the complexities of moral and ethical decision-making.


In conclusion, "A Personal Matter" delves into the inner world of its protagonist, Bird, as he grapples with the conflicting emotions brought on by the birth of his son with severe brain herniation. The novel navigates themes of personal freedom, identity, and moral dilemmas, offering readers a thought-provoking exploration of the complexities of the human experience. Through its powerful narrative, the novel prompts readers to confront their own desires and societal expectations, leaving a lasting impression long after the final pages have been turned.

A Personal Matter FAQ

  1. What is the book 'A Personal Matter' about?

    A Personal Matter is a novel by Kenzaburō Ōe that follows the story of a young man, Bird, who struggles with the news of his newborn son's severe birth defect. The book delves into Bird's internal turmoil and his attempts to escape from his responsibilities as a father and husband.

  2. What themes are explored in 'A Personal Matter'?

    The novel explores themes of personal responsibility, escapism, identity, and the complexities of parenthood. It also delves into the impact of societal expectations and the struggle to find meaning in life.

  3. Is 'A Personal Matter' a work of fiction or non-fiction?

    'A Personal Matter' is a work of fiction, presenting a fictional narrative about the protagonist, Bird, and his personal struggles.

  4. What is the writing style of Kenzaburō Ōe in 'A Personal Matter'?

    Kenzaburō Ōe's writing style in 'A Personal Matter' is known for its raw and introspective nature, delving deeply into the protagonist's thoughts and emotions. The prose is often poignant and reflective, capturing the inner turmoil of the characters.

  5. What is the significance of the title 'A Personal Matter'?

    The title 'A Personal Matter' reflects the deeply personal and internal struggle of the protagonist, Bird, as he grapples with the difficult situation involving his newborn son. It emphasizes the intensely private and emotional nature of the story.