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The Portrayal of Protest in the Fictional World of Kazuo Ishiguro

A writer, who has in real sense transcend all the barriers of nationality, Kazuo Ishiguro consistently caused revolution in the form of fiction. Being the citizen of Britain he never forgot his indebtedness towards his native country Japan. For Kazuo his ‘way of looking at the world’ his ‘artistic approach is Japanese’. (2017) It may be one of the significant reason why he could successfully attain the highest echelon of literary world. His major novels deal with, what Allan Bloom opined in Shakespeare’s Politics (1983), “common understanding of what is virtuous and vicious, noble and base”.[1] The novels of Kazuo present it in very subtle ways.

The process of determining the relationship between politics and literature has been always considered as the ‘most problematic criterion, one that quickly lead to dilemma’[2] ( Jacques Ranciere, 2011). In case of evaluating the fictional world of Kazuo with a political gaze would open up altogether new avenues of interpretations. His novels such as A Pale View of Hills (1982,) An Artist of the Floating World (1986), The Remains of the Day (1989) compels reader to reimagine the political upheaval between WWI and WWII. Artistically the representation of the background along with the development of events exhibits neve-ever talked about and suppressed reality behind the Allied Forces, European Politics, American shrewdness, German helplessness and the worst impact of the anti-Semitism. With the very ordinary narrator Stevens as a butler, Kazuo asks a question to the entire world, which we all would be having at end of our Day! The first person narrative technique with historical background bring us near to the form of diary writing.

With the help of interdisciplinary study of literature would try to evaluate the art and craft of the Nobel Prize winning novelist. It may open up altogether new avenue of literary evaluation when entire world is on the verge of WWIII. One can evaluate the Japanese literary tradition of the imaginative writing, contemporary Asian tradition of novel writing and significant aspects that reflects the presence of politics in the creative writing tradition. The multidimensional evaluation of the text would lead to the holistic approach to understand the message that the writer wants to convey through his fictional craftsmanship. Kazuo Ishiguro in more than one sense achieves the realistic depiction of the present world.

Japan and Its Influence upon Creative Thinking of Kazuo:-

It is difficult to maintain one’s own tradition intact on the foreign lands. The incident of Kazuo Ishiguro is one such rare example which exemplifies that even by being on the lands of Europe one can keep alive one’s own spirit of mother nation. He born in Nagasaki, Japan and due to his father’s profession was shifted to Britain at the age of five only. His parents took care of the matter that the spirit of Japan should not be erased from the heart of Kazuo. In 1989 at the time of discussing about the Japanese inheritance and its influence on his upbringing the writer himself mentioned that,

“ I am not entirely like English people because I’ve been brought up by Japanese parents in a Japanese-speaking home. My parents didn’t realise that we were going to stay in this country for long, they felt responsible for keeping me in touch with Japanese values. I do have a distinct background. I think differently, my perspectives are slightly different.[3]

In a sense Japan is constantly alive in the writings of Kazuo Ishiguro in one way or the other. It may be this distinct heritage only that makes him unique in the echelon of world renowned writers.

On the other hand, if one observes the Japanese tradition of imaginative writings one can come to know that there are several aspects which might have influenced the creative world of Kazuo. If one observes the major aspects of Japanese writers from the international perspective, we find a kind of similarity with Kazuo. The majority of writings by Japanese writers such as Niwa, Ishigami, Nakamura, and Haseguwa are related to the Japanese suffering in the post war era. Most of their creations reveals a kind of reaction against American direction of Japanese life. The character of Mr. Lewis in the novel The Remains of the Day represents such aspect of ‘inconvenience’ and ‘engagingly informal’. His self-proclaimed role of Big Brother in the Conference organised at the Darligton Hall, efforts to win the confidence of Lord Darligton by mentioning about the United States that,

“…would always stand on the side of justice and didn’t mind admitting mistakes had been made at Versailles”[4]

In a sense it had been considered by the narrative as an effort to win the confidence of his master Lord Darlington.

Among the other significant traits of the Japanese writers one can find the expression of utter horror of the war as well. Marika, a significant character of Yaeko Nogami’s fictional work Meiro reveals it in a unique way as,

Everywhere there are many women like myself – in China, Russia, Europe and America, and everyday their babies ask, ‘when will father return?’ they answer tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after the next day. So answering they wipe away their tears.[5]

Along with these issues one can also observe their myopic and uncritical tendencies as far as Russian aims are concerned. At the same time, they reveal Japan’s need to get along with the other nations of Asia.

Literature and the Field of Moral Philosophy and Political Theories.

It is very much required for all the moral philosophers and political theorists to understand day to day encounters in the public field precisely. According to the trends of contemporary philosophers and Political theorists they have shifted their attention more upon the imaginative literature. The reason is the best possible path that leads them to envision and understand every day issues of the public sphere more precisely. It is ovious to state that more than theories of justice our day to day confrontation with state institutions, technology and the media have more texture and opacity. Karen Michael in The Citizen’s Voice: Twentieth Century Politics and Literature rightly observes that,

“ Even the novels that do not seem to overtly ‘political’ can illuminate our situation as political subjects confronted with complex and opposing responsibilities.”[6]

The relation between Politics and literature is a kind of multilane freeway with traffic flowing easily from the both direction towards each other. It is obvious to believe that the literature produced in any of the country is the product of sociological and political factors. Moreover writer’s perception also gets shaped in such environment only. Conversely, on the other hand significant works of literature has major effects on society by setting up or demolishing taboos, conventions and prejudices. In a sense they contribute to the changes in values which in turn have brought about social and political changes. In case of our nation one can mention the name of Mahatma Gandhi, who brought the unprecedented change in both the political as well as social life of India. Most of his movements were inspired by creative works. The epistolary communication between Gandhi and John Ruskin, Rabindranath Tagore, Javerchand Meghani are sufficient to mention the evidences. Gandhi himself acknowledged that his movement of Civil-Disobedience was influenced by the creative works of Henry David Thoreau.

Fictional World of Kazuo Ishiguro and Political Protest.

In the contemporary times if any author has examined the human emotions from multiple dimensions so perfectly than he is Kazuo Ishiguro. Being a writer he has experimented utmost techniques and skills of fiction writing as a creative author. His creative world has imbibed the best possible qualities and questions of the present world at the same time suggested some significant solutions in subtle manners to be decided by the readers. In a sense he has allowed the environment to influence and influence the environment by his significant contributions. The highest jury for any literary prize, the jury for Nobel Prize observed for his contribution that with the help of his craft,

“ novels of great force, (he) has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”[7]

Such ‘great force’ can be observed from his very first thesis cum novel, A Pale View of Hills(1982). The novel deals with Kazuo Ishiguro’s favourite subject. It deals with the life of Etsuko, a Japanes woman settled in England and pondering upon the recent suicide of her daughter named Niki. Revisiting her past she posits herself in post war Nagasaki and trying to rebuild her life after the war. Etsuko slips in the past of post war Nagasaki where she in the company of her friend tries to rebuild their lives. The very process of naming her daughter reveals the narrator’s protest against the past as,

“For paradoxically it was he(husband) who wanted to give her a Japanese name, and I – perhaps out of some selfish desire not to be reminded of the past – insisted on the English one.”[8]

As one of his significant earlier works An Artist of The Floating World,(1986) winner of the Whitebread Book of the Year, and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, tells the story of the Japan of 1948, rebuilding her cities after disasters of WWII, forgetting the past focusing the future. The central character of the novel Masuji Ono, a well-known painter, must be enjoying his peaceful retirement life but it is difficult for him to bring himself out of dark shadows of the past. The memory of the past drags him in the rise of Japanese militarism at the time when new Japan was rebuilding itself. The narrator in a sense brings us near to the inner voice of the common Japanese who was fed up with the war and desperately searching for new dawn of development. The message is artistically conveyed through the voice of the Masuji as,

“Our nation, it seems, whatever mistakes it may have made in the past, has now another chance to make a better go of things. One can only wish these young people well.”[9]

The optimism conversely reflects the detest of the war in the mind of the author as well. Moving one step further Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize winning novel The Remains of the Day(1989) in more than one sense reveals the international interpretation of the War. The novel dexterously deals with the most difficult subject of war. Situated in the period between the two Wars(WWI and WWII) Britain, the novel ingeniously talks about the efforts of those who were honest enough to avoid the unavoidable and those who were very much interested in the another war. The high profile talks of Allied Forces, French and German officers along with an American shrewd from the vision of a small butler provides an impartial understanding of the event. As the outcome of the informal conference preceding the Swiss conference, which was going to decide the future war, Mr. Dupont, a French diplomat expresses his satisfaction against the views to relieve innocent Germans from the burden of the taxes (which ultimately caused the WWII) as,

“I am happy to assure you all here that I will bring what modest influence I have to encourage certain changes of emphasis in French policy in accordance with much of what has been said here. And I will endeavour to do so in good time for the Swiss conference.”[10]

Conversely, the anti-Semitic activities and animosity in the form of Lord Darlington himself and nefarious ‘blackshirts’ organisation opens up another picture of prevailing hatred in the society. As the obedient servant to master whom, he considers to be the best judge of the situation, Stevens reveals the ultimate gaol of a butler’s life as,

“There are certain members of our profession who would have it that it ultimately makes little difference what short of employer one serves; who believe that the sort of idealism prevalent amongst our generation – namely the notion that we butlers should aspire to serve those great gentlemen who further the cause of humanity.”[11]

Such a genuine ‘cause of humanity’ only makes the Kazuo Ishiguro one of the best living authors in any language of the world.

Thus, one can observe that with the help his novels be it is A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World, or The Remains of The Day Kazuo Ishiguro conveys his socio-political observation of his times in a dexterous way with the help of characters who belong to the very humble backgrounds. In this way Kazuo Ishiguro hits two birds with one stone: such as revealing the inner voice of the common man and revealing the common truth upon the issues that effects all, that is war. The noble way of dealing with one of the most significant calamities of human civilization wins him the most prestigious prize of humanity, the Nobel.


  1. Bloom, Allan, Shakespear’s Politics, University of Chicago Press; Chicago, 2003, P.137.
  2. Ranciere, Jacques, Politics of Literature, Polity Press; Cambridge, 2011, P. 5.
  3. Swift, Graham(Fall 1989). “Kazuo Ishiguro”. BOMB. Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  4. Ishiguro, Kazuo, The Remains of The Day, Faber and Faber; London, 1989, P. 89.
  5. Yamagiwa, Joseph, K. Pacific Affairs, Vol. 28, No. 3, Sep. 1955, P.255.
  6. Michael, Karen, The Citizen’s Voice: Twentieth Century Politics and Literature, University of Calgary Press; Calgary, 2003, P. 173.
  7. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017 – Press Release”. Nobel Prize. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  8. Ishiguro, Kazuo, A Pale View of Hills, Faber and Faber; London, 1982, P. 9.
  9. Ishiguro, Kazuo, An Artist of the Floating World, Faber and Faber; London, 1986, P. 206.
  10. Ishiguro, Kazuo, The Remains of The Day, Faber and Faber; London, 1989, P. 104.
  11. Ishiguro, Kazuo, The Remains of The Day, Faber and Faber; London, 1989, P. 147.

Dr. Hardeepsinh R. Gohil, Assistant Professor (English), Gujarat Commerce College, Ahmedabad