Equations of Time, Faith, and Love in Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor

Generally, The Housekeeper and the Professor presents the formation of a “family” between the professor, the housekeeper, and her son [who, though unnamed, the professor called “Root” due to his flat head, similar to the flat top of a square root sign] one that is perhaps best described as virtual—unclear yet existent. The creation of the family is bounded together mainly by a common interest, where a lack of memory and knowing is made up for by a strong desire for platonic love and a grounded basis of communication in the form of mathematics. The context in which the relationship occurs is perhaps for from that which is ideal; however, the relationship in itself is one that is strong—where the boundaries of memory no longer constrained.

The Housekeeper and the Professor proves the universality of mathematics as a language through which people communicate—what bridged the housekeeper and the professor who will never seem to know her was the fact that to varying extents, both understood the language of mathematics (or at least, the housekeeper took an effort to understand it, allowing her to relate to the professor who is unable to remember her in the first place). Together, the continual displacement of memories from the professor presents the opportunity of the formation of new ones for the housekeeper and her son. Ironically, however, it is these new memories which are formed through the encounters of the housekeeper and the professor that bring about the thought of old ones for the housekeeper, and oftentimes for the professor himself as well. The Housekeeper and the Professor quite simply revolve around equations of time, faith, and love in twenty-first-century Japan, themes that are deterritorialized throughout the novel.

Eminent in Ogawa’s work is the concept of time as something that bounds however infinite. The element of time is most evident in the lapsing memory of the professor—hence presenting the concept as something that controls fate—defining one’s ultimate destiny, somewhat constraining what one is capable of doing. Time is deemed limited, and to varying degrees in the progression of the novel, it is seen as something which is eventually wasted mainly through initial impressions of the professor’s dilemma, where at eighty-minute intervals, conversations are repeated, and the past is forgotten. However, this is very much in contrast to the perception of the housekeeper after she develops a perceived relationship between herself and the professor, where time, which can be wasted, actually presents the opportunity for one to make use of it, or even waste it, in order to develop something meaningful. The eventual wasting of time is contrasted by the fact that time can be wasted in order to form memories and develop experiences. The ephemerality of the professor’s memory accounts for the wasted time of those who try and get to know him in his short memory span; however, it is evident that though the housekeeper was aware of this, she still held on to the relationship she and her son had with the professor [such as bringing the professor to the baseball game, or celebrating birthday parties, going so far as to find a very rare baseball card to serve as a gift]. Somehow, the housekeeper, aware that the professor would soon forget about everything they had experienced together, chose to waste time for and with the professor, and doing so allowed her to forge experiences she would be unable to get anywhere else. She wasted time that was fated to be wasted, and did not merely resign to its control over her and the professor’s fates. The very concept of time is deterritorialized—where it is thought to be something to be maximized, it is revealed that time will ultimately be wasted. This wasting of time, however, is not a phenomenon left to fate, and is paired subsequently with the choice to waste time, developing meaning in memory and experience. The housekeeper and the professor likewise strongly deal with the various characters’ sense of faith, where faith is defined best as a “complete trust or confidence in someone or something” (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Most evident and perhaps the most sustained sense of faith comes from the professor, who trusted the housekeeper despite never really knowing who she is. The novel begins with a very vague sense of the professor’s faith, who is somehow forced to trust the housekeeper due to his condition. However, the progression of the story reveals the professor’s development of a complete trust in the housekeeper, even allowing her and her son to take him to a baseball game. He is very much aware that part of this faith in the housekeeper stems from the fact that the professor has resigned to his fate of being unable to retain his memory, and the sense of faith is developed from an awareness that whether or not he places his faith in someone, his fate will still be the same. In agreeing to go to the baseball game, for example, the Professor places his faith upon the housekeeper and Root, even if he knew that he would soon be forgetting all of his experiences. The housekeeper says: “Did the Professor enjoy the game? Later, when Root and I spoke of that remarkable day, we were never sure. And there was always a part of us that regretted putting this good-natured old man through such an ordeal.” (Ogawa, 2009) The housekeeper reveals the fatalism of the professor, and presents a perceived awareness of it. (Christian O. Go, student) 

Spectacle in the Standard

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude begins the chant of the celebration of the spectacle in the standard life. His novel revolves around the lives of six generations of the Buendia family and the magic that envelops their everyday living. What makes his novel unforgettable are the events and fictional devices and elements that make it transcend the usual perspective of an everyday reader.

The Unseen: Perspective

One of the instances that magic realism has been reflected in the novel is through its use of the out-of-the-ordinary perspective of the world seen through some of the characters like Ursula, Pilar, and Aurelio Segundo. Through Ursula’s hallucinations and metaphors, readers get to see a more concrete comparison of the Buendia children to animals that which she feared of having as her offspring. Readers also get to see the realization that Garcia Marquez’s stronghold of the novel’s events through his fluidity of time has been effective through Ursula’s hallucinations as she nears her death when she begins to belong to a world whose time becomes more and more of a vacuum where the past and the present collide (p. 340-34]). Through Pilar’s foresight, readers also get to have a different perspective of the characters. Though Pilar might have been a character that a reader might feel disgusted with, she has (fore)seen more truths in the family and in humans in general because of her “business.” A relatively strong belief of a certain perspective also alters the reader’s attitude towards the novel as characters slowly reveal their different strongholds through religion, superstitions, and political stand among others. Through Aurelio Segundo’s pair of eyes, readers also get to see a relatively different superstition about abundance through his affair with Petra. How Remedios the Beauty ascends is also reflective on how religion has set a pair of lenses not just towards the characters but to the reader’s perspective as well (p. 236). 

The Unknown: Stories

Another instance reflective of magic realism in the novel is its sense of mystery. The untold story of characters that disappear and reappear in the novel stirs a sense of disturbance without halting the fluidity of the novel and of the events in the novel. Whatever happened to Jose Arcadia when he left home and how he grew into a humungous creature was somewhat left undiscussed and was just summarized as ones filled with adventures and travel throughout the world. Whatever happened to Rebeca after the death of Jose Arcadia was also left untold and simply summarized as her journey to insanity. Whatever happened to the real owner of the treasure Ursula has buried under the bed was never revealed as well.

The Untold: Events

Literature’s ability to voice out the silenced and deleted realities of history such as textbooks is also an evident strength of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The lives and the stories—and most of all, the traumatic results and the traumatropism of the survivors of war and exploit are strong evidences of a postcolonial voice and a cultural mirror of the ugly realities of life. The changes that happened to Colonel Aureliano Buendia has reflected the physical and psychological casualties of war and how most people end up realizing how war never resolves anything. Of the sanity that exploitation and mass murder have caused upon Jose Arcadio Segundo reveals lifelong trauma. However, of these uneventful happenings, the passing on of truth through stories that go beyond history is given importance in the novel. With the cameo role of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the novel, being Aureliano Babilonia’s best friend, the relevance of truth in literature amidst its subversive facet is more and more affirmed as though Garcia Marquez himself agrees with it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude celebrates life amidst chaos—just as the existence of a positive sense of wonder and the flavorful experience of the fantastic found in the novel. As it moves through a 360-degree turn toward the family’s past, readers get to understand how things really happened and how, through six generations of Buendias, life is reflected amidst differences the similarity of souls. (Sylvelyn Jo Almanzor, student)