The Diary: A Personal, Descriptive Literary Genre

“…odd facts, stories from the past, and all sorts of other things, often including the most trivial material…”

— Sei Shōnagon, The Pillow Book, c. 1000 A.D.

Sei Shōnagon’s c. 1000 AD work titled The Pillow Book is a highly detailed diary that prototypes the narrative form of Ruth L. Ozeki’s novel titled My Year of Meats. For example, The Pillow Book as a diary, is subdivided into many sections that are simply labeled with heartfelt thoughts and emotions such as: Pleasing Things, Shameful Things, and Hateful Things, that directly and personally engage the reader. Similarly, the first person point of view found in My Year of Meats is aggressively personal in the sense that it is bluntly detailed and honest. For example, on pages 35-36 of the novel, the following excerpt demonstrates how My Year of Meat’s narration forcefully places the reader in a confidant position:

“…You are doing a wife or two a week. While you are shooting them, they are your entire world and you live in the warm, beating heart of their domestic narratives, but as soon as you drive away from the house, away from the family all fond and waving, then it is over…that’s it. Easy. Done” (Ozeki 35-36).

Simply put, the “too much information” narrative style of My Year of Meats figuratively entraps the reader in a disturbing realm of truth and intimacy. Furthermore, the pronoun “I” (a manifestation of the first person point of view), is overwhelmingly present throughout the novel and so validates the text. That is to say, the word “I” personalizes the text. It transforms it into a private one-on-one conversation the reader trustingly accepts and identifies with.

Last but not least, the diary as a genre is a medium that grants agency. For example, Sei Shōnagon via The Pillow Book powerfully critiques Heian social norms and the Heian court itself. In addition, Shōnagon overstepped gender norms through her use of Chinese characters when writing The Pillow Book. Likewise in My Year of Meats, the protagonist Jane establishes herself as a symbol and dynamic embodiment of power through self-expression. For instance, Jane’s mixed ethnicity, a fact that she brings up many times, empowers her to critic her cultures, which she does quite openly. Also, Jane’s translating occupation empowers her in a feminist manner. For instance, when Jane translates and rewords Kato’s memos, such an act figuratively subordinates the male gender. In addition, Jane’s occasional bouts of elevated language (diction) equal Shōnagon’s Chinese character use:

“…We’d spend two or three days with her, picking through the quotidian minutiae of her existence…” (Ozeki 35).

Accordingly, the phrase “quotidian minutiae” quoted above empowers Jane but it also exposes her to scrutiny and critique, Shōnagon’s exact experience and fate after openly using Chinese characters.

In conclusion, the diary genre represented by Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book, prototypes My Year of Meat’s narrative style. That is to say, My Year of Meats is in part a diary since it implements “I” narration and carefully details all things and matters both big and small.


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