Few novels dare to touch the inner vulnerability of humankind. It is Soseki’s Kokoro that captures the essence of friendship and loneliness, truth and betrayal, and life and death. The novel is, after all, about human nature. Any one reading this powerful work will quickly relate to the characters who go through tremendous strife, personal changes and much reflection. While Kokoro was written in Japan many years ago, it may be valuable to a reader even in contemporary society as its attributes may be embraced today, despite its age and cultural focus. Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro explores a great deal of subject matter. Several themes are woven into the pages of this older novel. It is fair to say, at least based on a personal experience, that one might have a tendency to discount the credibility of the work or deem much of the information irrelevant due to ages age and cultural differentiation. However, it will be shown that Kokoro is a novel that, like so many others, breaks the barriers of time. Soseki successfully creates deep characters that permeate the weak boundaries of the human character. We recognize that this novel shares a sense of timelessness supporting the entire foundation; the themes we see explored here are quite applicable to the lives we live today. Naturally, the Japanese component of the work is what makes the clear distinction between Japanese culture and Western mentality. But all the same, the morals in Kokoro seem to be fundamental enforcing great personal reflection upon the reader.
As the reader progresses through the novel, contemplating themes and depicting the characters, specifically the student and Sensei, he begins to develop the notion that indeed the characters possess a sense of timelessness. They could have been born in the twentieth century and experienced the same sort of friendship and turmoil. However, the relationship between the two men is out of the realm of ordinary fiction. It is unique and something that this author explores quite candidly. The fact that the two are in a close friendship and that the young student explores new territory is in some way allowing the older character to live up to his title of “teacher”, or Sensai. Yet, in exploring the issue of timelessness, and applicability to other
situations, the particular point about the friendship between the two is something that could have taken place anywhere and anytime.
While other portions of the work are pertinent to Japanese culture, the exploration of such a friendship is something that is truly universal. The reader might note perhaps the anomaly of their relationship, though, considering the ages of the men. Yet, such friendships do form between old and young; youthful intellectuals might find greater knowledge in those older individuals who experienced history than what is written in a book. Clearly, their relationship differs from that of the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren though. They are peers, respectful and yet colloquial in their manners. In the case of Kokoro, the relationship begins between two strangers but the friendship formed becomes intense very quickly.
There are yet more ways to explore relationships between men in the novel. It must be emphasized that these relationships all too often go unnoticed and unexplored by fiction. Soseki looks at not only the student’s relationship with Sensei but also with his dying father. Here we have a young man, his father on his death-bed and his mentor stating to have ended his life. What was the student to do, where was he to go, who would he want to be with during those men’s last minutes of life? Quite a lot of pressure for any individual. He was caught up in the times, the evolution of modernization and the uncertainty as to remain in the traditional realm of Japanese culture and stay by his father’s side or perhaps continue to pursue his education and knowledge, returning to Sensai to demonstrate his gratitude, devotion, and...
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