Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The narrator

The narrator, a nameless, stray tomcat of obscure origin that has been adopted by the Kushami family of Tokyo. Plain and nondescript in appearance, it is somewhat Persian in type and light grayish yellow in coloring. A creature of feeling and of a sensitive nature, it is highly intelligent, able to read and write the Japanese language. It is curious in its exploration of the world and an acute observer of the lives of human beings, in relation to whom, however, it feels definitely superior. Its principal deficiency is that it is cowardly and unable to catch rats.

Sensei Kushami

Sensei Kushami, the tomcat’s owner and a teacher in Tokyo. In his mid-thirties, he is of average build, has a pockmarked face, wears gold-rimmed glasses, sports a handlebar mustache, and suffers from dyspepsia. He wears the Japanese dress of the Meiji period: bowler hat and an haori jacket over a kimono. He has a wife, whom he often verbally abuses, and three small daughters, the youngest a baby. A reclusive person, he shuts himself in his study on returning home from school, and he tries to read, invariably falling asleep. He indulges in a variety of cultural enthusiasms: writing haiku and modern poems, painting watercolors, sketching, and playing the violin. He never rises to competence in any of these activities. He also keeps a diary, which is often read by his cat. Kushami is self-centered, self-indulgent, insensitive to the feelings of others, stubborn...

(The entire section is 615 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The title of the novel in Japanese, Wagahai wa Neko de aru, uses the formal first person pronoun to refer to a cat, bestowing on the animal narrator an ironically elevated status. Sseki is evidently poking fun at himself and human beings in general on several levels, through the dual perspective of a cat who lives in the home of an English teacher.

First, the cat behaves and thinks like a cat. Some hilarious passages arise from the clash between the worlds of cats and humans, as when the narrator decides to try some leftover rice cakes and gets completely entangled in the sticky mess, or when he remarks on the superiority of cats who wear no clothes and yet are never naked.

Second, the cat has the characteristics not only of a human but also of a widely read, literate, and perceptive one, much like the author, who is able to read diaries and refer breezily to great historical figures in both Western and Eastern civilization. At the same time, the cat’s master is an English teacher, as Sseki himself was; the cat mercilessly mocks the habits of his master, who locks himself in his study after coming home from school, ostensibly to read and study, but who more often than not falls asleep over his book. The cat perceives his master as an ineffectual, introverted man who tries in vain to improve himself, trying the art of writing poetry or painting watercolors, but constantly subject to his physical ailments.

Third, the cat,...

(The entire section is 491 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Doi, Takeo. The Psychological World of Natsume Sseki, 1976.

Kato, Shuichi. “The Age of Meiji,” in The History of Japanese Literature. Vol. 3, The Modern Years, 1983.

Keene, Donald. “Natsume Sseki,” in Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era, 1984.

McClellan, Edwin. Two Japanese Novelists: Sseki and Toson, 1969.

Yamanouchi, Hisaaki. “The Agonies of Individualism: Natsume Sseki,” in The Search for Authenticity in Modern Japanese Literature, 1978.

Yu, Beongcheon. Natsume Sseki, 1969.