Self-Conscious Storytelling and the Crisis of Masculinity in Early Ishiguro
This thesis engages with Kazuo Ishiguro’s three novels, An Artist of the Floating World, The Remains of the Day, and The Unconsoled, as united by a common theme: the crisis of masculinity. These texts, written in succession from 1986 to 1995, are Ishiguro’s first uses of male character narrators. This thesis takes this fact as consequential for the meaning of the works, as well as for the idea of their interconnection.
I link the obscured tragedies often identified in Ishiguro’s narrators to the conflicting obligations they feel between their sense of themselves as men and their suppressed emotional lives. This imbalance between the private and public life is presented as a key conflict in Ishiguro’s work, one accessed through identifying crises of masculinity. A crisis for Ishiguro is triggered by the realisation of the impossibility of balancing these two lives. Discussing how professional identity is tied to masculine identity, I analyse the way unreliability emerges from the overprioritising of work. I suggest that in this way identity performance is key to unreliable narration and that these narratives operate as a reorganisation of the narrators’ biographies along the logic of crisis.
However, rather than suggesting that Ishiguro’s true interest is on masculine crises, this thesis makes the case that by looking at this series of novels as different explorations of crisis, something new is revealed about the more documented interests of Ishiguro’s experiment—memory, unreliability, history, and storytelling. Through this claim I seek to demonstrate how an overlooked aspect of Ishiguro’s early work offers a fresh approach to his overall project. I combine established narratological analysis of the novels with this alternative perspective on the early works to analyse the way the author expands the bounds of readerly awareness, as well as the capabilities of narrators. In doing so I draw a causal chain between masculine crises, self-conscious narration, and violations of realism.
Each chapter explores the related ways Ishiguro carries his interest in crises of masculinity forward. The first, on An Artist of the Floating World, analyses the novel’s sense of being self-consciously organised from within, expanding on the connection between a crisis of masculinity and authorial dispositions. The following chapter on The Remains of the Day takes up narratological theories on the implied author, the narratee, mimesis, and unreliability to examine the extent to which narrators can be aware of their unreliable narration’s effects. The final chapter reads The Unconsoled as Ishiguro’s “masterwork” on the crisis of masculinity. The chapter explores the ways the text acts as a heightening of the prior crisis novels to get a better grasp of this unusual work.