As I was recently browsing through the literary journal Ploughshares, I stumbled across a story called “Ten Thousand Knocks” about a young man named Kei. His first job in the ‘real world’ is to ensure tenants pay their rent on time. As an insurance enforcer, he is at liberty to encourage punctual payment with threats of violence (Ploughshares Vol 43 No. 2, 103). He has threatened a countless number of people, and asks one struggling resident, “Do you have any idea how many doors I’ve knocked on, Miss Tamura? Dozens and Dozens. Hundreds, probably. So many that I’ve lost count. I’ve spent the last two years going to every corner of Ibaraki prefecture. I must have knocked ten thousand times” (Ploughshares Vol 43 No. 2, 106). Kei is suited to the job and finds it lucrative, but as events unfold he faces a moral dilemma. Should he continue to do the job for the profits or should he quit because he is profiting off the pain of others? Finally, one day Kei steals himself to pound down the door of yet another deficient tenant. He “pulses himself into a batting stance…but no matter how hard he tries to, he can’t force his muscles into a swing” (Ploughshares Vol 43 No. 2, 110).
I was struck by how strongly I identified with the character of Kei after finishing the story. As a young man poised to enter the work force, I found his story truly relatable. Kei saw limited opportunities before him and chose the career that was most lucrative, without looking at the moral consequences. He did not enjoy being an enforcer; he did not want to hurt other people. When he finally makes what is portrayed as the moral choice at the end of the tale, he must acknowledge he will most likely be fired and must search for a new profession.
The subject of employment is foremost in my mind and the minds of 450 of my peers as we look forward to graduation later this academic year. We know competition is steep. It is very tough to get a job in the working world. It is even tougher to get a job you want, with the pay you desire, in the field of your choosing. Students have to make many tough decisions about what their first job will be. Should they take a job with the best work/life balance? Should they take a job that leads to the most money despite what it may entail? I think the answer lies within each individual. Some people are willing to sell their souls for a job. Others, need a balance. Some prefer a more altruistic career to feel accomplished from day to day.
“Ten Thousand Knocks” truly showcases the external struggle between Kei and the outside world. The author depicts in detail how strongly Kei fights to embrace his role as an enforcer. Kei progresses from a child-like view of the world to mature outlook. In one vivid scene he stands in a batting cage, missing how he used to play baseball, and wishes that life was still as simple as it used to be.
Should Kei have never taken the job? Was he wrong to choose the most lucrative career available to him? It may seem easy to judge his actions from a distance, but an in-depth understanding of his motivations reveal how similar, perhaps, they may be to our own. Kei mentions in the text how he always thought about other people leading happy lives (Ploughshares Vol 43 No. 2, 104). He knew they had jobs, money, and were able to provide for the people they cared about. Kei knew he had to do something in his life in order to put food on the table. He got desperate and leapt at the first career opportunity presented.
If you ask me, Kei made the right decision in the end to quit his job as an enforcer. However, I still cannot blame him for taking the job to begin with. He was simply doing what he thought necessary to survive in the scary realities of a modern world.