Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Though I Am a Cat was one of Sseki’s first publications, it is considered by some to be his masterpiece. The unusual point of view gives it a unique status not only in Japanese but also in world literature. The startling novelty of the narrative voice made the first chapter and its author an immediate success. Some critics find, however, that the looseness of the structure, inevitable given Sseki’s original intention of writing only one chapter but continuing to eleven because of popular demand, detracts from its appeal as a serious work.

Born a year before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Sseki grew up and wrote at a time when Japanese literature started flourishing again after a sterile period. The emperor Meiji’s avowed intention was to open Japan to the knowledge of the rest of the world for the good of the nation. Japanese translations of works from all over the world were bountiful, giving the Japanese easy access to Western literature. Trained as a scholar in both the classical Chinese literature, which had dominated in Japan, and English literature, especially of the eighteenth century, Sseki was also rare among Japanese scholars of his day in forming his own theories of literature in his classroom. Two of his lectures, Bungakuron (1907; a study of literature) and Bungaku Hyoron (1909; literary criticism), were published. As is apparent in the final chapter of I Am a Cat, Sseki felt the tension between the...

(The entire section is 405 words.)