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Kokoro by Natsume Soseki



Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortably confined. It is not a very agreeable place to live, this world of ours.


-- The Three-Cornered World, Natsume Soseki




  • The Heart
  • Modernism
  • Higher Education
  • Giri (social obligations) vs. Ninjo (natural feelings or inclinations) and On (indebtedness)


Part 1: Sensei and I



Their Meeting


  • Why the beach?
  • Why a foreigner? (4)
  • Why the Sensei?  What about their meeting draws in the narrator? (6)



The Graveyard


  • Why does the narrator go?
  • How does Sensei treat him?
  • (10-11) What’s with the tree?
  • (12) Why does he feel a strange weight on his heart when he sees Sensei?


Famous People in Zoshigaya Cemetary

More People at Zoshigaya





  • (35) what does she think about higher education?
  • (37) What about her assessment of the Sensei?
  • (41) What does she tell the narrator about the cause of Sensei’s depression?



Sensei's Philosophy


  • (10) the reality of death
  • (15) How are they alike?
  • (26) What is the “guilt in loving?”
  • (29) Misanthropic?
  • (31) Based on his experience


The Narrator's Family


  • What are they like?
  • Why the mushrooms?
  • Why chess and not go?
  • What is the narrator’s reaction to his family after his Tokyo experience?



Back to Tokyo


  • The narrator’s schooling
  • What is unusual about the questions Sensei asks?
  • Why the dog and kids?





  • What does Sensei’s house look like?
  • What about his thesis?
  • What is the narrator’s view of his future?
  • Why all the questions about dying first?
  • What sorts of preparations does the narrator make to return home?
  • Page 79 - what kind of letter does he write?


Part 2: My Family and I


Nature as Symbol


  • The Wind - (81) breeze and scarf  (88) Meiji  (91) The Emperor's death
  • Cicadas (88) (99)
  • Changing of the seasons


Back Home


  • What is the narrator’s view of his mother? (83)
  • What is the father’s view towards his wife and his death?  (85)  Why does he ask what she'll do after he's dead?
  • What is the narrator's view of his neighbors? (86)
  • Why does the father care what the rest of the neighbors think about their son? (87 + 93) - duty to neighbors


The Royal We


  • What does emperor Meiji’s sickness have to do with anything? (90)
  • Who is this General Nogi? (108)



The Generations


  • What are his father’s views on this generation? (98)
  • How does the narrator compare sensei and his father? (99)
  • Why can't the mother detach herself from this situation? Why will getting a job help his father get better? (107)
  • Why do they keep pointing out the Japanese translations of words?  (102 - Mother / 115 Brother)


Giri vs. Ninjo


  • What does the narrator think of his brother? (114)
  • What does the narrator’s brother think of Sensei? (115)
  • Saku-san: what about his visit? (111)
  • Why does the narrator start to doubt his own vision? (116)


Part 3: The Sensei and his Testament


The Impetus


  • Why does Sensei write his first telegram to the narrator?
  • Why has the Sensei tried to release himself of all obligations? 
  • Why has he decided to write this long letter explaining his past that he has been so reluctant to tell before?
  • (129) - the heart as what?



The Sensei's Past


  • What is his background? 
  • (130) - What kind of person is Sensei, even at a young age?
  • What kind of man was his father? (132)
  • How does the Sensei from his parents’ death to his Uncle’s guardianship?



Uncle Sensei


  • How is his uncle different from his father? (132)
  • Why doesn’t Sensei want to get married?
  • What is the Sensei’s theory of love (137)
  • (138) “I was so simple to think that in life, as long as one rejected openly what one did not want, one would be left alone.”  Why is this not true?
  • (141) the world is unworthy of trust




Okusan and Ojosan


  • Where is Ojosan’s father?  What kind of symbolic nature could he possess?
  • Why does Sensei fall in love with Ojosan?
  • How does Okusan see Sensei?
  • How does Sensei see Okusan?
  • (154) Sensei thinks Okusan wants him to marry her daughter:
    • Why?
    • Is he right?
  • (155) why is Sensei confused about Okusan’s intentions?
  • Why doesn’t he want to marry Ojosan?
  • Why the bullying scene? (160)


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  • How does Sensei get K to move in with him? (173)
  • Why does K look at playing the koto etc.. as frivolous?  (184)
  • How does Sensei see Okusan?
  • (154) Sensei thinks Okusan wants him to marry her daughter:
    • Why?
    • Is he right?
  • (155) why is Sensei confused about Okusan’s intentions?
  • Why doesn’t he want to marry Ojosan?
  • Why the bullying scene? (160)


Outside Resources

Essay on Soseki


Essay on Kokoro from the Quarterly Conversation






Art Project

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