“Nextis a novel shaped around the thoughts, actions and inactions of the protagonist, Daisuke, who is the idle and bohemian son of a wealthy family. In his novel written at the end of the Meici Period, Soseki describes the changes and transformations in Japan through the eyes of Daisuke, who watches the changes and transformations from his home, sometimes thinks about them, sometimes fights with himself, and spends most of his time reading and traveling.”
The period, which was named after Emperor Edo in Japan, started in 1603 and ended in 1867, was a time when the country closed in and embraced its traditions. This situation changed with the accession of Emperor Meici in 1868. Thanks to the reforms called Meici, which were quickly implemented in the period between 1868 and 1912, turning to the West became a state policy in Japan. This speed caused some unrest and dilemmas among the people.
The military, economic and industrial reforms that Japan carried out by imitating the West created an innovation-tradition contradiction in the society and encouraged the expansionist and militarist segments of the country. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 gave the mentioned groups the opportunity to test themselves on the field.
One of the important innovations brought by the Meici Period was the transfer of the concept of “individual” from the West to Japan. Especially through philosophical discussions and literary works translated from Western languages, the importance, freedom and rights of the “individual” began to be talked about in the country. The return of the students who were sent abroad at that time to the country and sharing their experiences also played an important role in this. One of those students was Natsume Soseki.
Returning to Japan after studying in England, Soseki, one of the most important writers of the Meici Period, had the opportunity to compare the life, economic and political structure in Europe with Japan, and he had the opportunity to reflect on the Westernization moves that continued in his country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In his texts, he deals with how it is reflected in the society, the tensions that sprout among the people, and the individual-society dilemma. In other words, the author becomes one of the most important figures in the literary connection between Japan and the West.
While focusing on the tension between the serenity of the soul and the mind that works non-stop in his novels, which are dominated by the past-present-future line and the themes of “me” and “the other”, Soseki depicted the contradiction of city and country, innovation and tradition, of the characters who turned their face to the West and stepped on their own soil. On the other hand, the love pain experienced by the same characters, their reckoning with themselves, their emotional collapses and challenges stand out as important themes in the author’s novels.
Focusing on those who can adapt to the majority and those who cannot, Soseki also depicts those who cling to their traditions in order to preserve their innocence and simple life during the founding of the new Japan, and those who lost it, in his novels, in which he refers to the gap between the small world of the people and the big world outside them.
Soseki, who started journalism in Japan, where he returned after his education in England, is quickly becoming a well-known writer in his country. His observations on political, economic and social events during his time as a journalist are also reflected in the author’s books. Likewise, the concepts of “individual” and “individuality” and their equivalents in life also infiltrate his texts through his observations.
At the beginning of Soseki’s books in this context, one of the most important narrators of the tensions and conflicts of the Meici Period. Next is coming.
Daisuke refusing to work and marry
Nextis a novel shaped around the thoughts, actions and inactions of the protagonist, Daisuke, who is the idle and bohemian son of a wealthy family. In his novel written at the end of the Meici Period, Soseki describes the changes and transformations in Japan through the eyes of Daisuke, who watches the changes and transformations from his home, sometimes thinks about them, sometimes fights with himself, and spends most of his time reading and traveling.
High-level educated Daisuke, who voices his freedom, independence and individuality more loudly as he is forced to live in accordance with society by his family, not only notices the distorted aspects of Japanese traditions, but also criticizes the economic moves in the Meici Era. Although he lives in a safe family environment, he comes across as someone who has concerns about the corruption in his country, the economic system, the criminal police and the corrupt state bureaucracy. For exactly this reason, Daisuke, who was criticized for refusing to work on that dirt, has his own justifications:
“Working is okay, but if I work, I have to work for more than just bread, otherwise it would not be honorable service. All kinds of sacred duty are separate from the cause of bread.”
Daisuke lives comfortably on the means provided by his company owner father. Even if she decides to work, she does not know what to do, and she is also cold to marry. Because of these two situations, he feels excluded from society, or rather, he stands out as a person who stands against the traditional structure in Japan.
Soseki describes this state of Daisuke as follows:
“As a result of his lack of interest in any profession until now, although he had an idea about professions, they were only superficial, he could not imagine anything further. To him, the world seemed to have flat and complex colors, and he couldn’t think of anything else other than that he couldn’t be tied to any color. After skimming through all the professions, his eyes fell on hoboes and stared for a while. There he saw his own shadow amongst a group of beggars, enough to get lost on the border between dogs and humans. The collapse of life was the point where the freedom of the soul was destroyed, the most painful part.”
Dilemma of being ‘me’ or melting in society
Daisuke’s life, which sometimes falls into a vicious circle, changes with the return of his friend Hiraoka, who lives in another city, and his wife Miçiyo. This is similar to the transformations that took place in Japan during the Meici Era.
Daisuke, who could not leave his family in order not to give up his comfort, question what is going on in Japan without the need to work thanks to this prosperity, follow the books and magazines published in Europe, and get rid of his father’s long narration of the country’s history and traditions. appears as a person thrown back. His “peaceful” life changes with the return of Hiraoka and Miçiyo.
There is a past love affair between Miçiyo and Daisuke. While this “deeply buried” and never forgotten love cloudes Daisuke’s mind, it interrupts the secure life he has established in his small world. Moreover, his interest in a married woman increases the grunts against him a little more.
Hiraoka’s pushing Miçiyo into the background due to his work principles and ambitions attracts Daisuke’s attention and he sees that his friend is doing exactly what he is criticizing. This setting allows Miçiyo and Daisuke to reopen old notebooks and rekindle a fire. Therefore, it turns into a novel about both the dilemmas of the Meici Period and the relationships of individuals and its reflection on society. Next.
Soseki brings us together with the story of Daisuke’s discussion with himself and the society, through the concept and action of “work” and the relationships he has established or not established, who come to the fore with his conscious choices and greet the reader as an individual, even though he seems indecisive. In other words, the author brings us all face to face with Daisuke’s dilemma of being an individual or dissolving into society.
Nextis a novel that brings up the new life that was tried to be established in Japan with the reforms, the changes and transformations that took place in the background, the reaction of the society to these and the problems it has faced, around the experiences of the main character Daisuke. Thus, Soseki once again greets the reader with the tension of “me” and “other”, society and individual.