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Review of Natsume Soseki's "Kokoro"

In: English and Literature

Submitted By leircat
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Individualism was the core of Natsume Soseki’s writing. In his renowned novel, “Kokoro”, Natsume explored the constant struggle between personal morality and the selfish aspects of human nature through the life experiences of Sensei, who suffered from sense of guilt and loneliness. “The spirit of Meiji Era” was probably the best footnote for “Kokoro”, as it suggested a free, open and independent mental state that people could pursue happiness at their own will. However, this kind of spirit, Natsume argued in his speech of “My Individualism”, would undermine people’s mental wellness if they did not form the concept of egotism and the conscience for their behaviors. Three negative effects brought by the spirit of Meiji era were: loss of one’s ego, breakdown of personal moral system, and feeling of isolation and loneliness. These backgrounds gave us a better understanding for the tragic fate of the protagonists in “Kokoro”, as well as the formation of Natsume’s ”Individualism”.
First, the loss of one’s “self” was a common problem existed in Meiji period. Complete westernization and parochial nationalism let people doubt their traditions and abandon the old learning. Sensei and K both had to face the conflicts between their aspirations and the judgments of society. Though they both had affection for Ojosan, they resort to different actions. K, carrying the traditional merits in mind, had suppressed himself because of his friendship with Sensei. Nevertheless, Sensei chose to follow his own heart and sacrificed K. The one being betrayed lost his faith in “the true way” and took his own life in despair. The one betrayed his friend never stopped blaming himself and suffered self-disgust and eventually committed suicide. This chaotic self resulted from the clash of ideal and the reality had led to the tragedy, and the dilemma still happened throughout people’s lives. As a result, Natsume urged us in his speech: to establish the self-centeredness with values based on personal morality in order to avoid these problems.
Secondly, although Western individualism stressed on individuality, it often neglected the commitment and responsibility that people should take. Sensei was the prominent example. As the symbol of individualism himself, he deceived K for his own benefit. Upon K’s death, the first thought came into Sensei’s mind was whether his secret would be realized by others, which revealed the selfish side of human nature. We often put much emphasis on personal happiness in modern society, but the truth is, the happiness constructed on other’s sacrifice won’t last long, and the sense of sinfulness will always haunt us. Having observed the moral decay caused by western individualism, Natsume gave new tenets on mutual relationship between individual and the society. In the speech “My Individualism”, Natsume argued that, in order to develop one’s characteristics, he must respect others’ rights. Also, he must bear the concomitant responsibility if he wants to use wealth and power. We can see from above Natsume’s individualism was not unconditional; it was moralistic individualism, which obligated people with responsibility for their personality. After all, people are vulnerable under the reign of egotism and only mutual benefit will endure. Setting up the personal ethical system would be helpful for maintaining the harmonic relationship with others as well as one’s peace of mind.
Finally, how to overcome the ultimate loneliness of individualism was the question that Natsume kept seeking for solutions to. Individualism could mean isolation from families, friends, the old teachings and believes. I thought Sensei’s “junshi” for the Meiji Emperor had symbolic meaning. It indicated Natsume’s mourning towards” the spirit of Meji Era”---the endless pursuit for freedom and independence at the price of fundamental loneliness. “Who is to say what is another’s heart.” depicted the theme of “Kokoro” and the thinking of Natsume. The society is the combination of individuals that are so much different from each others. And we cannot always understand other’s mind or expect to be understood even by our close ones. It might seem hopeless, but what’s really important is the process of trying to comprehend and respect each other, no matter what the result turns out to be.…...

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