An Artist of the Floating World

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Literary Techniques

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Like A Pale View of Hills, this novel is driven by the memory of a narrator thinking back over his life, but there are several differences in the way Ishiguro employs this technique in An Artist of the Floating World. Instead of following the action over a relatively short span of time, Ono's remembrances are broken up into four sections spanning a year and eight months, allowing him time to alter his thinking about several issues. The narration is conversational, and the lapses into the past are sometimes noted by such phrases as "However, I see I am drifting" and "But I am digressing."

Ishiguro also introduces the subjectivity of experience into his narration, as we are left to wonder, was Ono as important to the war effort as he claims he was, or is his daughter Setsuko right when she says that no one understands why he is apologizing for his past behavior. While the former is much more dramatically satisfying, the fact that different characters in the story interpret events differently is psychologically accurate and very true to our own experience.

Social Concerns

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Masuji Ono, the narrator of this novel, allowed his artistic talents to be used in support of the imperialistic goals of the Japanese military during World War II, and in the years following the war, he, his students, his family, and his country must come to some sort of understanding about what their country has done. During the novel, Ono realizes that his use of art as militaristic propaganda and his own personal behavior have lead to grave consequences for his country and many of those around him.

Literary Precedents

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With Ono's narration, Ishiguro again employs a character sifting through the facts of his life to reach an answer, a mainstay of a great deal of first-person fiction. In the process of narrating their stories, Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926), and Ira Holloway in Robert Olen Butler's They Whisper (1993) all come to some new understanding of their lives and change in subtle ways. Ono himself reaches an awareness of his complicity with the imperialists who led Japan into a disastrous war; this is a shift of attitude.

In this novel's narration, Ishiguro continues to refine his use of the unreliable narrator, a narrator whose judgments of the facts of the novel may be colored by his or her experience to the degree that they alter the story he or she tells. Huck Finn in Mark Twain's novel is an unreliable narrator; the most famous modern example of unreliable narration is Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915), which An Artist of the Floating World imitates in its use of Ono's shifting awareness with the passing of time.

Bibliography

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Gurewich, David. “Upstairs, Downstairs.” The New Criterion 8 (December, 1989): 77-80.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Interview by Gregory Mason. Contemporary Literature 30 (Fall, 1989): 335-347.

Mason, Gregory. “Inspiring Images: The Influence of the Japanese Cinema on the Writings of Kazuo Ishiguro.” East-West Film Journal 3 (June, 1989): 39-52.

Petry, Mike. Narratives of Memory and Identity: The Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.

Shaffer, Brian. Understanding Kazuo Ishiguro. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Sim, Wai-chew. Globalization and Dislocation in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006.

Stanton, Katherine. Cosmopolitan Fictions: Ethics, Politics, and Global Change in the Novels of Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Jamaica Kincaid, and J. M. Coetzee. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Walkowitz, Rebecca. Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond Nation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Wong, Cynthia. Kazuo Ishiguro. Tavistock, Devon, England: Northcote House, 2000.

Yoshioka, Fumio. “Beyond the Division of East and West: Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills.” Studies in English Literature, 1988, 71-86.

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