The Fiction of Tokuda Shusei and the Emergence of Japan's New Middle Class
Shusei believed that literature should speak for the powerless and represent common experience—a believe forged by a number of oppositional political and literary movements, such as the movements for People's Rights in the 1870s, realism in the 1800s, naturalism in the first decade of the twentieth century, and social realism in the 1920s and 1930s. Torrance demonstrates that Shusei's concept of shomin (common) culture is the key to understanding his mature works. The shomin culture differed from that of the Edo period and was a product of massive urban migration at the turn of the century. The term came to be used for a class position that contrasted with various elites and took on cultural connotations absent from other terms for "the masses." It suggests popular art forms (such as Ozaki Koyo's novels, magic lantern shows, and the yose and other forms of popular theater), as well as popular eating places, shitamachi (artisan and merchant) neighborhoods, and hundreds of associations that stand in contrast to Japanese high culture and especially to the high culture of the West, which in the Meiji period was appreciated only by the wealthy and the intelligentsia.
Shutsei excelled at portraying that confused realm of urban immigrants, that protean middle stratum of fairly heterogeneous origins, which was to become the new middle class in the postwar period. He chronicled the chaos and disorientation of modernity for large numbers of "ordinary" people and gave narrative voice to segments of society that were normally voiceless. Shusei was a product of his culture and by choice remained immersed in it all his life. Shomin life was the source of and inspiration for his best fiction. In Shusei's portrayal of sheer chaos, indeterminacy, and breathless excitement precipitated by increasing urbanization, he created a style of realism that has yet to be duplicated. His works are a powerful testament to the sacrifices of countless people who were integral to the economic development of modern Japan.
Torrance examines Shusei's own class background—his birth and upbringing in Kanazawa - and introduces the Japanese literary world at the turn of the century, when Shusei learned the craft of the novel and short story and became a professional writer. Shusei's mature works—including Arajotai (The New Household, 1908), Ashiato (Footprints, 1910), Kabi (Mold, 1911), Tadare (Festering, 1913), Arakure (Rough Living, 1915), Kaso jinbutsu (In Disguise, 1935-1938), and Shukuzu (A Microcosm, 1941) - are analyzed in detail.
"Torrance's study displays mastery of an enormous body of works of literature, journalism, statistics, and scholarship; the compilation of detail will make the book indispensable to social and cultural historians as well as specialists in Japanese literature..Historical, anthropological, and statistical material is employed effectively and broadly to explicate works of literature and an entire literary and social milieu."—Jay Rubin, University of Washington
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