The Conflict of Western Modernity and Japanese Traditionalism in the Fiction of Natsume Sōseki
Date of Award
Bernard F. Rodgers, Jr.
In 1853 Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his fleet of U.S. warships sailed into Edo (present day Tokyo) Bay and demanded that Japan resume diplomatic relations and trade with Western nations after two-hundred years of self-imposed isolation. Over the course of the next century, Japan, driven by fears of colonization and aspirations of power, rapidly became an industrial nation. However, the rapid modernization and importation of Western social, political, economic, and moral values led many Japanese to question their acceptance of Western modernism and its effect of traditional Japanese values and culture.
The most famous Japanese novelist to emerge during the beginning of the 20th century was Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916), whose novels focused on the impact that Westernization and Modernization had on Japanese society. Sōseki frequently confronts the issue of man’s isolation in the modern age, but through a perspective unique to Japan’s struggle with modernity. In addition, he often commented on the fate of the individual in Japan’s changing society in his novels as well as several essays and lectures. For my thesis, I chose three novels that I feel best represent Sōseki’s vision of the changing realities that Japan faced in the modern era. They are Sanshiro, Sorekara, and Kokoro. My thesis focuses on the conflict between tradition and modernity, isolation, and notions of individuality within Soseki’s fiction, as Japan transformed itself into Asia’s most powerful nation. I conducted an exploratory analysis of each novel using the novels, as well as Sōseki’s own essays and other critical material.
Myers, Ian, "The Conflict of Western Modernity and Japanese Traditionalism in the Fiction of Natsume Sōseki" (2012). Senior Theses. 651.
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