The title "Kokoro" literally means "heart", and can be translated as "the heart of things" or "feeling".This novel, being the last of Natsume Soseki's works, is written on the cusp of Japan's conflicting cultural attitudes in the transition of an epochal rise to becoming a world power. This period wasn't just marked with bureaucratic, political, and military reforms, but also trickled down personal lives, families, friendship, and a reflection from the author's perspective of this intense personal impact.
"Kokoro" tells the story of a narrator who sees a man walking down a beach one day and is immediately fascinated by his unusual demeanour. Afterward, he befriends this man whom we only come to know as "Sensei". The development of their relationship, as a close friendship forms between the two of them forms the first part of the book's trilateral structure. The narrator repeatedly emphasizes his naivete in contrast with the worldliness and cynicism of Sensei. Sensei, a man who looks to be well guarded, is old enough to work but chooses not to, not out of laziness but rather for isolation. He has few close friends, and always puts a facade over his emotions while hiding the true ones under his sleeve. While to the narrator Sensei was a stereotypical older wise man, but he slowly realizes, while they chat about all sorts of things, something hidden deep inside Sensei's heart.
When Emperor Meiji, 122nd Emperor of Japan dies, on the day of his funeral, his beloved General Nogi Maresuke committed ritual suicide by seppuku (disembowelment). This act evokes more of a reaction in the Sensei than it does in the younger narrator, as being a man of old "Tokugawa Era".
To the narrator, what may be just loyalty for the Emperor makes Sensei discomforted of the new "Modern age" after the Meiji dispensation, so full of independence, freedom, and our egocentric selves.
The second part, "My parents and I" shows the declining health of the narrators' father, which he learned from a letter he received from his mother. But when the narrator returns home, he is surprised to find that his father's health has not worsened since his last visit home.
The man was up and about, enjoying a respite from his illness. However, the narrator finds his intellectual and urban disposition, the influence of his university education in the capital, in the ambivalence of understanding with his parents' simple provincialism. Afterward news of the current Emperor Meiji's sickness and then death strangely brings about a parallel decline in the narrator's father, making the narrator and his brother both curious about what will has in store for them.
Around that time, the narrator receives a telegram from Sensei asking him to come to Tokyo, but refuses first by a telegram and letter detailing his situation in a letter. Nearing his end, the narrators' father falls into a coma. At last, the narrator receives a thick letter from Sensei, and going through the pages, a line near the end grabs his attention, "By the time this letter reaches you, I'll be gone from this world. I'll have already passed away." Reading it, the narrator impulsively leaves his home and boards a train for Tokyo.
The last part, "Sensei and His Testament" entirely in Sensei's voice, the long written testament that the narrator is reading aboard the train as he steams toward Tokyo, and why Sensei decides to commit suicide. We learn of his youth, his family, and an episode during his time as a student that ties together all the facets of Sensei's personality and finally completely reveals who he is, and what is residing in his heart.
Throughout the novel, the prose is clean, clear, and spare. Even Sensei's testament, from his voice, varies very little stylistically from that of the narrator. This spare quality quietly distances the reader and the story, which is perhaps for more harmonious reflection. There is a large aspect of Kokoro's story that rests on the idea of mystery or perhaps more accurately said secrets.. A heartbreaking depiction of searching to fill an empty void in life, the story of many individuals who long to appease loneliness, and the story of two men who attempt to assuage loneliness through love but only find peace in death. Kokoro is a tale that gets to the heart of the loneliness, fear, and guilt that accompanies love, individuality, and betrayal.
The reviewer is a ninth grade student of Barishal Cadet College