Botchan is a novel by Japanese writer, Kinnosuke Natsume. The first theme that is evident in the story is the transitional period of feudal Japan into a modern and slightly Westernized society. The era in which the story is set in is the early period of Japan's "cultural identity crisis." Hard-line nationalists believed that Japan will not benefit from deals with the West—namely the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom—whilst progressives believed that Japan's industrialization was the correct path forward. The other prominent theme of the story is the characterization of Tokyo's citizens and urban culture.
The story satirizes the Tokyo "identity" and the contemporary mores of Japan as a whole. Another theme of the story—which is illustrated by the protagonist—is the alienation someone feels within the family and within society. The protagonist's bad relations with his father and brother symbolize the Japanese citizen in conflict with the society around them, but cannot express these tumultuous feelings due to the Japanese culture's emphasis on emotional suppression. In essence, the major theme of the story is the contradictory dynamics between individuality and the social collective.
Themes and Meanings
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.