The Housekeeper and the Professor Summary & Study Guide

Yoko Ogawa
This Study Guide consists of approximately 36 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Housekeeper and the Professor.
This section contains 658 words
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The Housekeeper and the Professor Summary & Study Guide Description

The Housekeeper and the Professor Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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“The Housekeeper and the Professor” is a contemporary novel by Yoko Ogawa in which the young single mother, the Housekeeper, comes to care for the elderly and amnesiac Professor with her son, Root, learning much about life and mathematics in the process. The novel takes place in the spring, summer, and autumn of 1992, when the Housekeeper is 28 and her son is 10. The Housekeeper is part of the Akebono Housekeeping Agency, and has been assigned to the Professor. The Professor is nominally cared for, and financially provided for, by his widowed sister-in-law. The Professor, having suffered a serious brain injury in an auto accident in 1975, now cannot remember anything past 1975 for longer than about 80 minutes, while his memory of events before, and knowledge of all things relating to mathematics, is exact.

The Housekeeper comes quickly to admire and befriend the Professor, though she must reintroduce herself each day. She quickly learns that the Professor is a mathematical genius, and leaves notes all over his house reminding himself of his 80-minute memory, and important things relating to his daily life. He has even pinned many of these notes to his own suit, which he wears each day. When the Professor learns that the Housekeeper has a son, he encourages her to let her son visit so that she, too, may have more time with her son. The Professor comes to call the Housekeeper’s son “Root” because the boy’s flat haircut reminds him of a square root sign. During the days the Housekeeper spends with the Professor, and the hours after school that Root spends with the Professor, the Professor opens their eyes to the world of mathematics and numbers. The professor explains that numbers are all around them, and no matter what practical applications math may have, the goal of the math has always been the truth. Math, for example, is able to prove conclusively that God exists, and understanding mathematics is like looking into the notebook of God and tapping into reality itself.

The Housekeeper comes to look at the world around her with a wonder she never had before. She also comes to grow closer to the Professor, realizing he is a human being worthy of patience, dignity, and kindness – things which previous housekeepers have not afforded him. The Professor also quickly bonds with Root over a common love of baseball, and a growing love of math on the part of Root. The Housekeeper and Root bring the Professor out of his house for a baseball game, but the exertion causes the Professor to contract a fever. The Housekeeper and her son spend the night with the Professor to make sure he is alright. The sister-in-law does not like this, however, and has the Housekeeper fired. Root continues to visit the Professor, which the sister-in-law does not like, either. Only when the Professor speaks out does the sister-in-law have the Agency send back the Housekeeper.

The Housekeeper and Root continue to be fixtures in the Professor’s life, going through great lengths to find a premium Enatsu glove card for his collection. They also discover the Professor’s thesis tucked away among his cards from when he was 29. In the thesis is an old photo of the Professor as a young man with his sister-in-law. Although never clearly stated in the novel, it is apparent the Professor and his sister-in-law were in love, but whether this love began as an affair or after the death of the Professor’s brother is unclear. The Professor celebrates Root’s eleventh birthday with the Housekeeper. Two days later, the Professor is suddenly moved into a nursing home by the sister-in-law, citing his worsening memory and the explanation that this was a long time in coming. For the next 11 years until the Professor dies, the Housekeeper and Root visit the Professor. Root himself ultimately becomes a math teacher, something which the Professor is thrilled to learn.

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