Monday, October 29, 2012

Sōseki’s Botchan (1906; Ch 1 through 4)

“A contrast between country and city, as fundamental ways of life, reaches back into classical times.” (Raymond Williams, The country and the City (1973)

Edokko: Child of Edo. “The word expresses nostalgic admiration for the old life and ways, and the pride that comes from being able to trace one's household or lineage back to the Edo period (1603-1868) and from possessing a certain quality that sets one apart from people born in the provinces. [. . .] The word Edokko is said to have made its first appearance in 1771 in a senryu (a humorous and/or satirical poem): "Edokko no / waranji o haku / rangashisa." The gist of the poem, a commentary on the Edokko character and behavior, is that Edokko are noisy even when they are wearing straw sandals. These cantankerous townsfolk were supposedly so impatient that they were unwilling even to take the time to tie the cords of their sandals, so their approach was heralded by a noisy flapping sound.” (Suzuki Shose, Mejiro University)

Some Questions

1. Describe Botchan’s personality. What sort of character traits does he possess? (List as many as you can, referring to specific passages.)

2. Describe Botchan’s style of narration. What sort of language does he employ? Who is his implied audience? How much temporal distance is there between him and the events he describes? Do you detect any (ironic) distance between the author (i.e. Sōseki) and his narrator?

3. Describe the character Kiyo. What qualities does she possess? What is her relation to Botchan? How does Botchan feel toward her?

4. Make a list the characters Botchan encounters upon arriving at the countryside school. Describe them. How do these characters and their personalities contrast with Botchan?

5. What is Botchan’s attitude toward his new location (namely, the city of Matsuyama in Ehime prefecture, on Shikoku island)? How does he regard the people of this region, and their customs and habits? As you read through the novel, you will need to consider the representations of city and country, and think about the associations and stereotypes associated with each. Are these associations and stereotypes undermined or reinforced in the work?

6. Play special attention to each character’s attitude toward money. To a large degree, each character defines his or her self by this attitude.

7. The novel is often read as a moral tale. What moral values is the work advocating, if any? You will need to think about this as you read through the work.

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