An Artist of the Floating World

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Ono's acceptance of responsibility for contributing to the Japanese war effort and the reader's recognition of the wrong that was that war of conquest make Ishiguro's themes of obedience and duty resonate in a larger and more dramatic contrast. Ono's propagandistic use of art also relates to one of the other major themes of the novel, the role of the artist in society. Unwilling to continue to immortalize the "floating world" of night, women, drink, and pleasure as his teacher Moriyama did in what most readers would recognize as traditional Japanese painting, Ono believes that art must have a social function instead of an aesthetic one. Incorporating words and images into work that sounds more like posters than paintings, Ono betrays his artistic promise by putting his talents in the service of an idea, and an evil idea at that.

The changing of Japanese culture during the American occupation which appears in A Pale View of Hills (1982) also shapes this novel. In particular, Ono feels uncomfortable about his grandson Ichiro's embracing American pop culture icons like the Lone Ranger and Popeye instead of Japanese heroes and legends. Ono feels increasingly uncomfortable in a changing Japan, even as he recognizes that some of the changes are positive ones.

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