While light symbolizes joy in the novella, dark represents pain or suffering. Throughout the story, the protagonist, Mikage Sakurai, battles to connect with joy while grieving, and worries that life is really just about enduring pain, or dwelling in darkness. Yoshimoto establishes that darkness stands for pain by consistently describing Mikage’s most painful moments as shrouded in darkness. For example, when Mikago and Yuichi are grieving Eriko’s death, Mikage describes their pain as a sensation of floating in “cosmic darkness.” Similarly, Mikago reflects on the “blackness of the cosmos” when she is in despair about her grandmother’s death. In addition, when Mikage is suffering, the sky or the atmosphere in a room is often described as “dark.” When Mikage tracks down her love interest, Yuichi Tanabe, down at the inn and is scared by the depths of his grief, she feels like the atmosphere in the room is dark and tomblike. Combining the two symbols of light for joy and dark for pain, Yoshimoto imparts her philosophy about the necessary balance of both in life. Yoshimoto believes that no person can eliminate suffering in the world, but only those who experience pain and can accept it are able to truly appreciate joy. The balance of joy and pain, or light and dark, thus, is represented by dark spaces that are dotted with light. For example, after feeling the tomblike atmosphere of the inn where she finds Yuichi, Mikage realizes that she can feel the pain of loss, but also the joy of happy memories, which Yoshimoto describes as a “glittering crystal” that lights up the darkness of Mikage’s mind.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Dark appears in Kitchen. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Kitchen
...ramen. As they sit under the kitchen light in the little room suspended in the dark night, Mikage suddenly thinks: “ramen! What a coincidence!” She playfully mentions that Yuichi also wanted... (full context)
Part 2: Full Moon
...explains that he felt functional for the first time today. When Eriko died, everything went dark and he went blank. Eriko was everything to him—“She was my mother, my father.” The... (full context)