Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Sseki’s satire couples his exposure of societal hypocrisy and pretentiousness with his endorsement of individual candor and personal loyalty. Redshirt, Clown, and Badger are obviously hypocritical and pretentious; insofar as their society rewards them with success and recognition, their society is at fault. Again, society is faulted when it fails to appreciate the qualities of individual candor and personal loyalty by which characters such as Botchan, Hotta, and Kiyo live and of which Sseki obviously approves. Unlike their societally approved colleagues, Hotta loses his job, Botchan is too honest to fit with his so-called genteel profession, and Kiyo spends most of her life as a menial. In the historical context of the Westernization and modernization of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, it is significant that Sseki makes the antipathetic Redshirt his main proponent of Western values and reforms (although it must be noted that Redshirt’s understanding and practice of Westernization is of the shallowest kind) and that the sympathetic Botchan is portrayed as the chief exemplar of traditional Japanese values of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate (although Botchan’s society-defying individualism is a deeply Western trait). Sseki’s satire is thus subtle as well as scathing.