Natsume Soseki’s novel “Kokoro” depicts the feelings of isolation caused by opening of Japan while Meiji period. The main cultural conflict of that period is determining the personal position towards Western individualism and Japanese loyalty to a community’s interests. People, who preferred Western values, were experiencing loneliness due to isolation from their society. In addition, many individuals feel neither true Japanese nor true Western, so they had problems with searching their identity. Soseki depicts these feelings of isolation and loneliness through characters of a narrator, Sensei and K. This paper will analyze how the writer represents the feelings of loneliness through his characters and how these depictions reflect the changes in the Japanese culture and society. The loneliness is the price, which individuals must pay for living in the times of rapid modernization.
The Overview of the Conflict
To begin with, the novel “Kokoro” depicts how different generations of Japanese people feel during adopting Western values in the society. Although each of them experiences some conflicts, the intensity of the internal conflict is different. The narrator represents the youngest generation. In the beginning of the novel, he is a student. The narrator wants to refuse traditional Japanese norms completely. Instead, the young man insists on adoption of Western ideas where everyone primary thinks about own interests. Other two characters represent the older generations. Sensei seems to support the Western values too. However, he still keeps some traditional values. K is interested in the new values but he continues to live in older ways. The common feature about all three characters is their loneliness caused by the search of own identity.
However, the men not only experience the internal conflict. Characters also cannot build proper relationships with their families and the rest of the society, which leads to their isolation from others. In particular, the narrator cannot indentify with his relatives, so he tries to create a bond with Sensei. The narrator chooses Sensei because he sees this man talking to a Westerner and thinks Sensei supports modern values. These conclusions are not completely true. There are still some differences between the mindset of the narrator and the teacher. When the young man goes with Sensei to the cemetery, he admits that there is a wall between them. They are divided due to the conflict between modernity and tradition. Although Sensei has contemporary views about many things, he still prefers a traditional Japanese lifestyle. The narrator explains own ability to adopt the modern values by his Western education, which made him more open-minded than Sensei. Besides, the narrator could deal with timidity, which is so common for people of older generations. The gap between the young and older generations is also obvious when the narrator visits his relatives in the countryside. The narrator says he sometimes feels as an alien with the family. In the end, the narrator realizes that the division between him and the society is so significant, that he cannot determine anything in common with others.
Such loneliness of the narrator is quite logical. Once Sensei tells the young student, “Youth is the loneliest time of all”. The teacher also adds, “You are young, and it must be difficult to accept your loneliness. You must sometimes want to fight it”. Therefore, the author concludes that young people have more difficulties with loneliness because they cannot accept it easily. Like the narrator, youth tries to find people with similar views or attempt to adjust to the society. They do not desire to feel isolated. For example, the young character from “Kokoro” tries to find something similar with parents and with the teacher. Only in the end of the novel, the narrator accepts his loneliness and isolation from the society. In fact, the search of people with common views is logical for a human because all individuals are social beings. The problem of the narrator is that his views are strange for the rest of people, so they view him as a stranger and avoid. If the narrator did not the refuse traditional values completely, he would feel closer to the society.
The Character K
K is less isolated from the society than the narrator. Although K is interested in modern values, he continues to live relying on the traditional values. Such strong connection to the Eastern values could be explained by the fact that K was raised with traditional norms. In addition, K was from the family of a Buddhist priest. Despite the high interest to the Western religions, he cannot introduce them in his lifestyle. This situation reflects the conflict, which existed in the society during Meiji period. Although Japan made much effort to adopt Western culture, people could not refuse the values they inherited from the previous generations. They needed some time for the change. Besides, people had to pay some price for living according to the modern values. According to the novel, “loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves”. As for K, he was not ready for paying the full price. Living according to some traditional values helped him to keep some links with the society.
The K’s relationship with Ojosan clearly illustrates his attitude to modern Western values. On one hand, his feeling to the girl is the example of egoism and individualism, which are so common on the West. However, he cannot do something to be together with the girl because this action would be against the traditional ideals. Besides, he had a constant conflict between the reality and his ideals, which made him confused. The conflict is seen when K disagrees to make a career of a doctor. This was a request of his foster family, so his refusal is a demonstration of disrespect to elders, which is not appropriate in the Japanese culture. However, K finds justification of the decision. He says that the action is right if it can lead to the true way. Therefore, the character applies traditional ideals to justify his modern mindset. This conflict leads to tragic outcomes; particularly K becomes isolated and decides to commit a suicide. K’s suicide resembles an escape from the conflict. The character cannot follow his feelings due to his attachment to the traditional values, and the death is the only way to deal with the cultural limitations.
As for Sansei, he tries to fight loneliness through returning to the Eastern traditions. Thus, he decides to marry Osojan because he considers her a symbol of Japanese culture. Sansei wants to deal with guilt due to K’s death through committing junshi (ritual suicide). Therefore, Sansei chooses to use tradition as a cure again. The character believes that he acts in the Japanese way but he is wrong. He behaves as a Western person. Unlike Japanese warriors, Sansei was motivated by egoism. He wanted to escape from his sufferings but not to restore the honor of someone. This fact unites him with K, who also used the death as an escape.
In conclusion, K, Sensei and the narrator represent the feelings of the society during Meiji period when Japan started to introduce Western values. K presents the conflict between tradition and modernity. Japanese people had the interest in Western individualism but could not act in the Western way. Sensei teaches the readers that the change requires some price. The narrator represents the young generation that is closer to the Western culture. However, each of them experiences loneliness due to inability to find people with the same mindset among their relatives and the rest of society. Therefore, loneliness is their price for freedom and egoism.