Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

By focusing on the members of a declining class at a time of social upheaval, The Setting Sun delineates the theme that change is inevitable and must be faced but is nevertheless painful. No simple solution will fit every situation, and the individual must confront reality honestly, without imposing a comfortable illusion. Along with honesty, compassion enables one to cope with painful change, but it does not by itself provide any permanent answers.

Kazuko’s ultimate acceptance of change marks her awareness of the need for revolution and love. Her own social revolution—bringing up her illegitimate child—is a desire to break from the old morality so that rigid standards will not claim further victims, so that her child can grow up healthy and strong.

The novel also reveals the importance of communication. While the characters are often indirect in their speech, they manage at times to establish a channel for their suffering, particularly Kazuko and her mother—a delicate channel that allows for the sharing of grief and pain. Kazuko’s letters to Uehara also prepare him to accept her love, even if he does not return that feeling equally. Most significant, Kazuko’s diarylike narrative establishes a bond between herself and the reader, who can respond with sympathy and understanding. Her writing, like the novel itself, refuses to superimpose an orderly, preset form of experience, relying instead on momentary observations, flashbacks, snippets of conversation, letters, and the journals of Naoji, all loosely connected. The Setting Sun shows modern literature, in contrast to the realistic nineteenth century novel, reflecting the fragmentary and subjective quality of the modern world.