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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



This thesis is an attempt to understand the concept of ma 間 as it appears traditionally in Japan and how it may be applied to literature as an analytical framework. Ma is most simply defined as an empty space, but has a long history of artistic connotations in various fields, such as architecture, music, and poetry, that may theoretically be applied to literature as well. First, I look at the historical and theoretical background of the concept of ma as it exists in the visual, musical, and literary arts. I consider how ma was first used when it was developed in the eighth century, how it was used prior to World War II, and how it has been used since World War II. I also look at Western theories that I believe could be used to further analyze the concept of ma – namely, the Iceberg Theory and the study of hermeneutics. I use the information in this portion to develop my thesis statement: that ma as an aesthetic term is primarily concerned with encouraging audience participation with the piece of art and that such participation with literature can be facilitated by certain writing techniques, including use of symbolism, juxtaposition, and understatement. Then, I look more closely at three works that I consider prime examples of ma in literature: Takekurabe by Higuchi Ichiyō, Yukiguni by Kawabata Yasunari, and Riaru wārudo by Kirino Natsuo. These works span a wide time range – from the late 1800s to the early 2000s – but all contain themes of disconnect, transition, and confusion, as well as specific writing techniques, that encourage reader participation through introspection. Additionally, I have included a glossary at the end for any Japanese words, with their hiragana and kanji counterparts, that a reader might be unfamiliar with.


First Advisor

Stephen Forrest

Second Advisor

Amanda Seaman