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Author Study: Kazuo Ishiguro Curated by Kelly Wu '20

Welcome! Explore this LibGuide to learn about author Kazuo Ishiguro.

Common Topics in Ishiguro's Writing

Ishiguro writes about memory, and as a result his novels are composed of a variety of somewhat related topics. These topics range from loss in When We Were Orphans and A Pale View of Hills, to displacement and blame in An Artist of the Floating World, to self-delusion in Remains of the Day, and finally to nostalgia, love, friendship in Never Let Me Go. 

An Artist of the Floating World

"An Artist of the Floating World is an exploration of somebody trying to come to terms with the fact that he has somehow misused his talents unknowingly, simply because he didn't have any extraordinary power of insight into the world he lived in."

The novel is set in post-war Japan, in the aftermath of Japan's defeat in World War II. Ono, an aging painter, recalls his life and career because his daughter is in the midst of a marriage negotiation. As readers continue through the novel, they realize that Ono was a propaganda painter who devoted his career to the nationalistic cause that cost the life of both his wife and son. He is now displaced, unaccepted and condemned by the changed society around him.



It is out of human nature for people to embellish memories in order to justify their past mistakes.

  • Motif: Unreliable Narrator

Repetition of: "Perhaps", “I could hardly recall", "I see I am drifting", “this is all a matter of many years ago..."

"That’s to say, any of us, when asked to give an account of ourselves over any important period of our lives, would tend to be 'unreliable'. That's just human nature. We tend to be 'unreliable' even to ourselves - maybe especially to ourselves"

By emphasizing the flaws in the protagonist's narration, especially with readers realizing that Ono may not have remembered something accurately, Ishiguro demonstrates that Ono is unintentionally avoiding the true implications of his past mistakes.


It is part of human nature for people to neglect the truth in order to avoid responsibility for their actions.

  • Motif: Ignorance

Ignorance reoccurs throughout the novel. In an earlier chapter, the young Ono encounters a man who recruits artists to paint propaganda pictures. The man successfully draws Ono in by criticizing his ignorance, that artists like him are foolishly naive, "often with no more than a child's knowledge of the affairs of this world" (170). Ono was eager to contest that and thus agreed to join the cause.

Another time Ono was denounced for his ignorance was when he visited his former pupil Kuroda. During the war, Ono had reported Kuroda to the authorities for demonstrating resistance to the nationalistic government. As a result, Kuroda was captured and tortured. Ono, not realizing what sufferings he had caused Kuroda, visits his former pupil in hopes of clearing up what he believed to be some sort of misunderstanding.

  • Motif: Retirement

Ono did not retire from his job but was forced to end his career as an artist because Japan had lost the war. However, he continues to refer to himself as a retired man, showing his unwillingness to accept the truth.

  • Motif: The Floating World

"I hardly remember what the city sounds like. This has been the extent of my world for the past few years. This house and this garden." (92)

"...the city's 'floating world' - the night-time world of pleasure..." (145)

"...when I look back over my life and see I have devoted it to the task of capturing the unique beauty of that world, I believe I will be well satisfied." (145)

“My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain forever an artist of the floating world.”

The floating world is a powerful motif in the novel; it refers to Ono's lack of insight into the world around him, and this ultimately causes his downfall.


There is dignity in acknowledging one's own wrongdoing.

  • Noriko's Miai

At Noriko's Miai, the formal occasion where the two families involved in marriage negotiation are introduced, Ono launches into a tangent acknowledging all the mistakes he had made in the past. The confession, though somewhat uncalled for, established a sense of dignity in Ono's character.

  • Motif: Suicide

Suicide is a subtle motif in the novel. It was first mentioned when Ono was having a conversation with an acquaintance. The young man explains to Ono that the head of his company had committed suicide, and reasons that the president's actions were honorable.

"We feel now we can forget our past transgressions and look to the future." (55)

Another time suicide appears was when Yukio Naguchi, a well-known musician, comes up in a conversation Ono has with his daughter. The musician had composed music for the nationalistic movement, and had committed suicide after the war. Ono's daughter fears that Ono would draw comparison with himself and the musician, therefore repeatedly assuring Ono that he was "just a painter" and does not have anything to do with the war.


In the aftermath of political upheaval, societal values are ever-changing.

  • Motif: Migi-Hadari Bar

Ono has been a regular customer at the Migi-Hadari Bar in his town since he first moved there in his youth. The bar changes drastically as Ono recalls different time periods in his life. Ono often looks back on when the bar was filled with commotion as artists and musicians pack the bar to enjoy their evenings. Now, after the war, the bar is surrounded ruins and Ono has become the only customer of the bar. This illustrates the significant change in that society.

  • Motif: Ichiro

Ono's grandson, Ichiro, serves to provide a stark contrast of the current generation with Ono's generation. Every time Ichiro appears in the novel, he is loudly expressing his excitement over some new American movie. Ono, on the other hand, is always desperately trying to get the boy to sit down and draw. This contrast emphasizes the divide between the newly westernized society and the traditional eastern values Ono still holds on to.

Illustrations are from