An Artist of the Floating World

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Smell of Burning Symbol Analysis

The Smell of Burning Symbol Icon

Although the novel’s narrator, Masuji Ono, never describes the grief and pain he has suffered over a lifetime punctuated by trauma, the way these traumas impact him is suggested by the melancholy feeling that comes over him when he smells burning. The smell of burning brings two kinds of associations for Ono, both having to do with the loss of what is most precious to him. Burning’s first association is with the smoke produced by paintings being destroyed, and its second association is with the smoke produced by bombs. The smell of burning evokes both the trauma of having his own paintings destroyed by his father when he was fifteen years old, and the trauma of having accidentally caused the paintings of his protégé Kuroda to be burnt by the authorities. It also evokes the smell after a bomb killed Ono’s wife. Importantly, Ono’s father’s decision to burn Ono’s paintings only makes Ono more determined to become an artist against his father’s wishes, which ultimately leads to a split between Ono and his parents. While Ono never discusses the circumstances surrounding his rupture with his parents, the smell of burning is a symbolic link that associates his loss of his parents with the loss of his wife Michiko in a bomb attack. The smell reminds Ono vividly of both events. At the end of the novel, when Matsuda says the smell of burning these days usually suggests nothing more than a garden being cleared, the suggestion is that the post-war future will not be as marred by traumatic losses as the years of Ono’s life.

The Smell of Burning Quotes in An Artist of the Floating World

The An Artist of the Floating World quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Smell of Burning. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of An Artist of the Floating World published in 1986.
November 1949 Quotes

'Did you have authorization to bum those paintings?’ I asked.

'It's our policy to destroy any offensive material which won't be needed as evidence. We've selected a good enough sample. The rest of this trash we're just burning.'

'I had no idea', I said, 'something like this would happen. I merely suggested to the committee someone come round and give Mr Kuroda a talking-to for his own good.' I stared again at the smouldering pile in the middle of the yard. ‘It was quite unnecessary to bum those. There were many fine works amongst them.'

Related Characters: Masuji Ono (speaker), Plain-clothes Officer (speaker), Kuroda
Related Symbols: The Smell of Burning
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Smell of Burning Symbol Timeline in An Artist of the Floating World

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Smell of Burning appears in An Artist of the Floating World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
October 1948
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
...pleasure district from the Bridge of Hesitation, which leads from it to his house, seeing smoke rising from the rubble, and feeling melancholy. (full context)
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
...would be. When Ono returns to the room with his mother, he thinks he smells burning, although the ashpot looks untouched. (full context)
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
...through the darkened hallway when he runs into his mother. He says that he smells burning, but she says he must be imagining this. He asks his mother what his father... (full context)
November 1949
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
...the winter before the start of the war. Upon arriving at the house, he smells burning and knocks on the door. A uniformed police officer answers and tells him that Kuroda... (full context)
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
...house to the back yard, where a plain clothes officer is standing by a bonfire, burning Kuroda’s paintings. Ono says he thought the officers would simply give Kuroda a “talking-to” rather... (full context)
June 1950
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
Ono looks out at the garden. He can smell something burning faintly and tells Matsuda that the smell makes him uneasy and reminds him of bombings.... (full context)