Natsume Soseki is a well-known Japanese writer who depicts events of the Meiji era and vividly portrays the personal feelings of people and their life grievances. Soseki proposes to readers a unique view of history depicting it as continuous and inevitable, as well as to the ethnocentrism of the Japanese nation that emerged in nineteenth-century Europe. Soseki’s style of writing can be characterized as a formalist one. Soseki uses metaphors and similes as basic patterns in linguistic expression.
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The book Kokoro vividly reflects new realistic ideas and the new historical era of Japan depicted through unique themes and stylistic devices.
The uniqueness and significance of Soseki are that he changed traditional Japanese literary themes and styles and introduced the modern vision of reality and the historical era. Soseki combines naturalist principles and Romantic ideals portraying unique personal feelings and experiences of the Japanese nation. The importance of Soseki in Japanese literature is that he used the effects of modernity in literature as no other writer of his time, but like the growing ranks of fellow intellectuals and writers during the first two decades of the twentieth century, Soseki portrays significant gaps in what might have been a critical vision on Japan’s presence in Asia.
Natsume Soseki wrote his masterpiece Kokoro in 1914. This novel portrays personal relations between men and their code of honor and responsibility. Soseki portrays the roles and place of women in society, their relations with men, and life opportunities. Also, Soseki portrays the importance of scholarship and learning, philosophy and wisdom. Kokoro treats everyday life and depicts a strong impact of ideology on a common citizen. Soseki depicts the role of marriage and family relations, love relations, and the failure of the main character to find a close friend. The narrator describes “Unfortunately, his sister had not married into a well-to-do family. Though she sympathized with K, she could give him no material assistance” (Soseki, 1957).
The book consists of three parts: the first part is called Sensei and I, the second part – My Parents and I, the third part – Sensei and His Testament. Soseki uses irony and satire to unveil the true feelings and experiences of the main characters. Kokoro is an attempt to narrate Japanese history. The story is told in the first person by a student who is a friend of an older man. The Student is drawn to Sensei by the mystery of the unexplained loneliness, and the gradual disclosure of Sensei’s life provides a way for the Student to shed his innocence and confront the dangers that lie in following the stirrings of his own heart. In the first part of the book, Soseki tells readers about the circumstances that lead to the friendship between Sensei
and the Student. This part helps Suseku to raise questions that remain unanswered until part three. Sensei declares: “You see, sometimes my wife misunderstands me. And when I tell her so, she refuses to listen” (Soseki, 1957). Soseki creates a unique love story that portrays the main character falling in love with the daughter of a widow in whose house he takes room. Thus, Sensei worries about a classmate whom he identifies as “K.” Sensei is concerned about this friend because his ascetic spirituality makes daily living a trial, Personal search and desire to unveil his true feelings lead Sensei to panic for having missed the opportunity to declare his feelings. Kokoro is based on irony as the main device which helps Soseki to speak within modernity that redefines time and historical space.
The book reflects the historical era through traditions and values of people, their opposition to old social views, and social order. For instance, the social and cultural views of Okusan reflect that she is a woman of great wisdom who tries not to interfere in the private life of another person. In contrast to many other women of this historical time, she embodies male features such as persistence and inner strength, strong beliefs, and leadership skills. “Okusan’s manner towards me gradually changed my state of mind. I became less shifty, and began to feel more relaxed” (Soseki, 1957). During the Meiji era women’s life, their destiny was defined and depended upon the men, and, particularly, upon their marriage. Soseki writes: “Rather, I felt sorry for my mother, whose life after my father’s death would, I knew, be very lonely” (Soseki, 1957). In contrast to these traditional gender roles, using the character of Okusan Soseki underlines that women can be equal to men socially and morally. Ojosan suffers through living with a man who has renounced any intention to live. Sensei marries Ojosan, but he never confesses his part in the drama of K’s death. Till the very end of the story, Soseki keeps readers in suspense: the story conflict and climax are evident in the last letter when out of fear, Sensei writes “taint her whole life with the memory of something ugly” (Soseki 1957).
Soseki portrays the importance of learning and knowledge for the modern generation. Through the character of Sensei, the author underlines that scholarship and learning is expressed in his answer as to why he is no longer interested in books: “Perhaps it is because I have decided that no matter how many books I may read, I shall never be a very much better man than I am now” (Soseki 1957). This theme has a special meaning, in the way it depicts knowledge and its transmission. The novel underlines a narrative of patriarchy for this task, letting family ideology be tested by the new age. Soseki underlines that women change the life of men. For instance, Sensei describes, “All of a sudden, my world had changed. … was no different from the others, and for the first time in my life, I was able to see women as the personification of beauty in this world. My eyes, which had been blind to the existence of the opposite sex, were suddenly opened; and before them a whole new universe unraveled itself” (Soseki, 1957). In contrast to other writers of this period, Soseki underlines that love and passion were typical things for every woman. But, most female characters try to balance reason and passion. Soseki depicts that Japanese women had a vivid imagination and romantic nature but were limited by strict morals and social traditions. The novel suggests something of the historical loss for women caused by the moral traditions of the nation.
In sum, the uniqueness of Kokoro and Soseki’s writing style is that the book was written during the years when, despite the existence of a wide range of writing, literature did not depict real life. In the book, there is a link between textual expression and the history of the nation. The uniqueness of Kokoro is that it marks a new period in the literary history of Japan and its traditional literature norms.
Soseki, Natsume. Kokoro. Trans. by Edwin McClellan. Web.