Associate Professor of Japanese Literature, Stanford University
James Reichert's profile
She Had It Coming: Morality and Narrative Voice in Gubijinsō
Natsume Sôseki’s novels have always been noted for their moral overtones, perhaps none more so than Gubijinsô (1907), Sôseki’s florid tale of domestic strife. So overt is the morality that Masamune Hakuchô famously dubbed the novel to be nothing more than “updated Bakin,” a reference to Kyokutei Bakin, the late-Edo writer noted for his adherence to the formula of kanzen chôaku. Although subsequent scholars have taken this assertion for granted, none of them has explored in detail how Sôseki’s narrative echoes elements of Bakin’s writing.
In my paper I will focus on the loquacious and opinionated Gubijinsô narrator, the main source of the verbal cues that shape the readers’ moral judgments of the characters and their actions. Informing my analysis will be Sôseki’s own theory of narrative inter-space (kankakuron), outlined in Bungakuron (1907). There, Sôseki argued that the spatial and temporal relation of the narrator to the characters and to the implied reader is a key factor in determining the emotional impact of a narrative. When applying this concept to Gubijinsô one sees that although Sôseki’s writing differs grammatically and stylistically from Bakin’s in many ways, there is an important similarity in the construction of the narrating voice. In particular, the first-person/storyteller quality that is syntactically and structurally embedded in Sôseki’s narrator parallels the clearly embodied sakusha of Bakin’s tales. This voice, concretized in the narrative frame, gives the Gubijinsô narrator a flexible and immediate positionality vis-à-vis the characters, which intensifies the effects of its moral commentary.