Kokoro Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What was the motivation of Sensei's suicide?

    The proximate cause of Sensei's suicide is the news of General Nogi's suicide and Sensei's wife reminding him of the concept of junshi. However, his decision to finally kill himself obviously involves at least two other elements: the indelible guilt for causing K's suicide and the possibility of sharing his story with the narrator. Sensei writes in the beginning of his testament of his longtime suicidal thoughts and how out of cowardice and a reluctance to abandon his wife he never followed through with his plans, instead deciding to live a dead man's life by doing nothing. Any many years of having done this, Sensei seemed to have become inured to the prospect of death, and so when the circumstances were right, he was able to kill himself.

  2. 2

    Discuss the different attitudes towards women in the novel.

    The two women in the novel, Ojosan (or Sensei's wife) and the narrator's mother, are both similar in that they are traditionally minded Japanese wives, but Sensei's wife receives much more respect from the narrator due to her intuition. Sensei too notices this outstanding quality in her, but even more than the narrator he is obsessed with her beauty and considers it her defining characteristic to such an extent that he seems to equate her person with it. In doing so, Sensei seems to have imagined his wife as the living ideal of a Japan which is swiftly passing, looking upon her from the perspective of a fallen modern man. K on the other hand holds both women and love in low regard, due to his Buddhist-influenced worldview.

  3. 3

    Which aspects of this novel are distinctly Western? Which are distinctly Eastern?

    Especially in Sensei's testament, Natsume pays close attention to the internal psychologies of his characters, showing his Western influences. Sensei often tries to dig deep into his own consciousness to find the underlying reasons for his outward actions, just as the narrator does when he presses Sensei about his past. However, Natsume also pays close attention to natural surroundings and often details them in simple, restrained descriptions reminiscent of traditional Japanese writing.

  4. 4

    Discuss the different layers of narrative in the story.

    The frame of the entire story, one should not forget, is the narrator writing after the events of the story. However, within the story itself, Sensei's testament is another written dimension which itself reflects upon another earlier time. Thus, the novel contains a certain degree of metafictional reflection, which is especially carried out by Sensei's remarks in his testament on his reasons for writing down his life story.

  5. 5

    Why does Sensei wonder at the sight of K's blood across the wall?

    The blood, and by extension the heart, is always present in the human body, driving all actions and emotions, and yet it is never visible except in unusual and violent circumstances of death. After K tells Sensei of his love for Ojosan and the torment that it causes him, Sensei becomes aware of a powerful turbulence in his friend, but even this is mostly concealed from him by K's usually indifferent mien. However, in death he is not only reminded but given the unconcealed presentation of K's life force, and he does likewise in revealing the hidden history of his own torment to the narrator in his testament before death, which tellingly he remarks is a cutting open of himself, a phrase which places the testament together with K's suicide.