Monday, October 29, 2012

Study Guide #2: Botchan (1906; Chapters 5 Through 11)

I. Terms

1. Picaresque (ピカレスク、悪漢小説)
-kind of realistic fiction (originating in 16th c Spain), in plain colloquial language
-focused around an anti-hero (picaro/picaroon/picaroon)
-rambling narrative of loosely connected episodes (rather than plot)
-picaroon: a scoundrel or rogue of low birth and unconventional life, at war with society.
-picaroon’s descriptions satirize society
-picaroon often exploits the society he is in
-common autobiographical account of picaroon’s fortunes, misfortunes, punishments, and opportunism
-tales are episodic, frequently arranged as journeys
-little character development
-abrupt endings to each episode (and to whole novel; suddenly go to America!)
-pessimistic judgment of life (without resolution; life just goes on miserably)
-damage inflected on anti-hero, other characters; damage a sign of experience
-anti-hero is irrepressibly independent; society is unalterably hostile
-novel allows anti-hero to assert his independence; but invokes counterbalance of society and its restrictions
-picaroons have tyrannical masters
-examples: Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, Grass’s The Tin Drum, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, 16th c. Chinese classic Journey To the West 西遊記,

*Genre Exercise: To what extent does the work conform to the definition of the picaresque?

Some Questions

1. Is Botchan a reliable narrator (i.e. is his vision of the world compelling, does it resonate, does it draw us in)?

2. Consider the other characters in the story. Are they round characters? Or are they more like the caricatures of katagimono literature of the Edo period?

3. Although a lighthearted and comical work, there are dark elements. What are they?

4. Describe Botchan’s personality (and how your perception of it is evolving). Are you noticing a gap between how he presents himself and how he is in reality? Cite specific passages.

5. Describe Botchan’s style of narration (to do this you will need to consult the original). What sort of language does he employ? Who is his implied audience? How much temporal distance is there between the narrating Botchan and the narrated Botchan? Do you detect any (ironic) distance between the author (i.e. Sōseki) and his narrator?

6. Locate the passages where Botchan refers to Kiyo. In what contexts/situations is she recalled? Why at these times? What do these passages reveal about Botchan?

7. Discuss the two rival camps that are beginning to form. What differentiates the two camps? Along what lines are they drawn?

8. Discuss Botchan’s notions of money and indebtedness. Consider this especially within the context of Botchan’s relationships with Kiyo and Hotta.

9. Is Botchan a fool? How reliable a narrator is Botchan? Is his worldview compelling and consistent with reality? Does it resonate with us? Does it draw us in? To what extent is Botchan aware of his own shortcomings? Is Botchan capable of objective self-assessment? Of mental, emotional, or spiritual growth? Are there any differences between the narrating Botchan and the narrated Botchan (i.e. the Botchan embedded in the story)?

10. Discuss the character Hotta. What is his role in the story? Discuss Mr. Koga (Green Squash). What’s his role?

11. Botchan’s philosophy is to be honest and straightforward no matter what the costs may be. Is Botchan living up to his own motto?

12. In his essay “Bunmei kaika to bunmei hihyō” critic Etō Jun wrote that the major writers of the Meiji period—Natsume Sōseki, Futabatei Shimei, Mori Ōgai, and Nagai Kafū—were primarily “bunmei hihyōka” (critics of [Meiji] englightenment). In what ways might Botchan be considered an example of bunmei hihyō 文明批評 genre of literature?

13.  What does Botchan mean when he says that he and Hotta are “heaven-commissioned chastisers” (179) who must exact revenge upon Red Shirt and the Clown?

14. Discuss how this idea of kanzen chōaku 勧善懲悪 functions in the story? 

15. Is Botchan a bildungsroman (教養小説) ? In answering this question, consider the narrator’s position vis-à-vis his past self/actions? Does the narrating Botchan strike us as any more mature than the narrated Botchan? Does he reflect upon his past behavior from a more mature (intellectually or emotionally) standpoint? Does he show a capacity for objective self-reflection? For critical judgment regarding his past actions?

16. According to Ōgai’s narrator in Vita Sexualis, all narratives are attempts at self-justification or self-vindication. Can the same be said about Botchan’s story? If so, was successful in vindicating himself?

17. Might Botchan be read as parody of Naturalists’ confessional novels, which were just becoming popular around this time?

18. How might we re-read Botchan in a completely different way now that we know that Kiyo is dead?

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