An Artist of the Floating World

by

Kazuo Ishiguro

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Themes and Colors
Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
The Relevance of the Artist Theme Icon
Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss Theme Icon
Intergenerational Conflict Theme Icon
City, Nation, History Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in An Artist of the Floating World, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Memory, Self-Perception, and Self-Deception

Masuji Ono, the protagonist of An Artist of the Floating World, is an older man looking back on his life and setting down his recollections. But Ono vacillates between a desire to honestly assess his past and a desire to avoid any feelings regret. Because these motives are incompatible with one another, Ono’s narrative itself becomes distorted by self-deception as he attempts to hide from his conflicted feelings, knowledge of his own culpability, and…

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The Relevance of the Artist

The deepest desire of Masuji Ono, protagonist of An Artist of the Floating World, is to be an acclaimed, significant artist. But while Ono is technically adept as a painter, his understanding of the world—and art’s role in it—is unsophisticated. Lacking a strong personal vision for his art and its message, Ono switches from one artistic movement to the next in pursuit of a style that will earn him acknowledgement as a great artist…

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Family Reputation, Family Secrets, and Familial Loss

Although much of An Artist of the Floating World is dedicated to exploring the reputation and prestige of the artist and narrator Masuji Ono, another, equally important kind of reputation is conspicuously unexplored in Ono’s narrative. Family reputation and prestige—and, on the negative side, shameful family secrets—may be much more important than Ono’s individual reputation to the events that play out in the novel. Ono’s failure to address the issue of his family’s reputation…

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Intergenerational Conflict

An Artist of the Floating World portrays a society that instills the importance of respect and obedience towards elders in the young, but is, nevertheless, defined by intergenerational conflict and distrust. This conflict becomes particularly fierce after the war, as the younger generation heaps blame on the older generation for leading the country down a disastrous path.  Although Ono’s generation seems to have definitively lost in the intergenerational struggle over the country’s values, this…

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City, Nation, History

An Artist of the Floating World is set in Japan between 1948 and 1950, a time of great upheaval after the country’s defeat in World War II. But the novel’s protagonist and narrator, Masuji Ono, focuses almost entirely on the relatively narrow world of a single city. Detailed descriptions of the building, renovation, destruction, and erasure of the various physical landmarks in his city that are important to him suggest a narrator much more…

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