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“A Pale View of Hills” by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Pale View of Hills is the first novel, written by a prominent English-speaking author, Kazuo Ishiguro. In this book, the novelist explores various themes, and this book can be analyzed from various perspectives, for example, the relationships between family members, the sense of alienation, the hardships, which many immigrants have to undergo. However, it seems that the most prominent motif is such an issue as the loss of culture and the dangers that it entails, namely, a permanent feeling of guilt and the rupture of family ties.

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Kazuo Ishiguro uses various means to render this idea to the reader, particularly; we should speak about the form of narration, juxtaposition of private and public memory. Moreover, he compares and contrasts the main characters, making them almost identical sometimes. Ishiguro is very unwilling to assess the behavior of people, whom he describes; his ideas are conveyed mostly through plot development, and the inner voice of Etsuko, the storyteller.

To throw light on this question, we should primarily focus on the main protagonist, Etsuko, and her daughters, Keiko and Niki. Ishiguro constantly draws parallels between them, and we can get a better understanding of these characters only through comparison. The narrator, Etsuko, tries to overcome her feeling of loneliness and guilt, which seem to take full control of her inner world. Yet, the most interesting feature is that this is never explicitly stated by the author, he never actually openly expresses his own views on this woman and her conduct. The reader looks at the world chiefly through the eyes of Etsuko, the narrator, who is deliberately trying to suppress some of her memories, and this is strongly connected with the feeling of her remorse.

To substantiate this argument, we should first refer to the opening chapter of the novel. At the very beginning, Etsuko and Niki are having a conversation with each other. This conversation takes place after Keikos suicide. The daughter tries to induce her mother to give vent to the emotions which devour her, but Etsuko makes only very non-committal remarks about her childs death. At first glance, there seems to be nothing abnormal in her reluctance to speak because there is hardly anyone who likes to remember such tragedy, but sometimes Etsukos narration begins to sound as though she does not even remember that her daughter has killed herself or at least she has absolutely nothing to do with it.

In this respect, we should pay special attention to her words “I have no wish to dwell on Keiko now, it brings me little comfort” (Ishiguro, p 3). These words are not addressed to the protagonists daughter, on the contrary, they are meant for readers or for herself.

This device produces an impression as if she is trying to vindicate herself or at least shield herself from some painful experience. Naturally, it is quite understandable, but occasionally, it seems that Etsuko is firmly convinced of her rectitude and she has nothing to do with Keikos demise. Her narration resembles some kind of dispute. Occasionally, it appears that the mother has almost convinced herself that she is entirely innocent of her daughters suicide but with time passing the sense of guilt comes back again.

This detail has always attracted many scholars; in her research article, Cynthia Wong argues that such conduct can be called “the shame of memory” (Wong, p 129). To some extent, it means that Etsuko attempts to force some events out of her mind but they reemerge over and over again. This is happening mostly due to her associations because the protagonist always sees her reflection in other people.

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The main reason why Etsuko is filled with the feeling of remorse is the death of her daughter Keiko. In some way, her mother has contributed to this tragic outcome. At this point, we need to discuss the underlying cause of Keikos suicide. It should be borne in mind that this family moved to England after World War II, and in fact, it was mostly Etsukos intention.

She is perfectly aware that by leaving Japan, she will abandon not only her husband or her own country, but she would also create intolerable conditions for her daughter, who may not be able to adjust herself to a new lifestyle. The main character left Japan because she fell in love with a British officer, and at that moment she was not very much involved with the well-being of her daughter. Deep in their heart, Etsuko cannot deny that she has been selfish but she does her utmost not to think about it.

There is another peculiar feature, which is closely connected with the motif of guilt. In particular, we should analyze the voice of the narrator in this novel. Ishiguro marks out two dimensions: public memory and private history. According to James Lang, this combination can be observed virtually in all novels of the author. While telling the story, Etsuko always refers to historic accounts, trying to forget her own impressions and feelings (Lang, p 143).

The protagonist often thinks about post-war Japan, the nuclear explosion, immigration, and in this way, she wants to explain the death of her daughter. These memories give us insights into Etsukos inner world but they only partially acquit her of her daughters death. The main character wishes to know whether she is the main cause of Keikos demise. She did not expect that the child would like to live in England, or in any western country because her worldview has already been formed, Keiko is very afraid of leaving Japan.

Nonetheless, her mother is adamant about her desire to move to a different state. Speaking about her inner dialogue, we may say that the mother wants to acquit herself, for example, he says “My motives for leaving Japan were justifiable and I know I always kept Keikos interests in mind” (Ishiguro, p 83). It can be observed that she convinces herself that this calamity was not her fault. Cynthia Wong maintains that this is a typical instance of self-deception, quite widespread among people, who attempt to prove to themselves that they are not to blame (Wong, p 131).

As a matter of fact, Etsukos narration very often reminds them of internal struggle that will last until she openly acknowledges her mistakes. The storyteller attempts to bury her private memory in collective history. Her major argument is that she did what was best for her children because life in the then Japanese society was not unendurable. But at the same time, she admits that the main reason for the departure was her love for a British officer.

There is only one inevitable conclusion: to some extent, her selfishness killed Keiko. However, her mother wants to evade it, she disguises her guilt under the description of historic events and sufferings of other people. James Lang argues that this is one of the most noticeable stylistic devices in the novel. Etsukos narration is primarily based on the juxtaposition of private and public memory.

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Again, we have to stress the fact that this conflict is motivated by the feeling of guilt and loss of culture. Certainly, we cannot state that Keikos death is only her mothers fault, she could not even imagine all the consequences of her decision, but the protagonist could avert it at a certain moment but she did not do it. This is why she is anxious to lose her own memories in collective accounts. She replaces her own emotions with those of many other Japanese, who had to live through similar hardships, and she falls into blissful oblivion, this state of mind is most comfortable for her, since it allows her not to dwell on Keiko.

Additionally, we must not forget that occasionally Kazuo Ishiguro compares, Niki and Keiko, he shows how different persons can succeed or fail in the new environment. The elder daughter always shuts herself in her room as if in a shell, whereas her sibling is much more sociable and flexible. In this regard, it should be mentioned that Keiko was “pure Japanese”, she was borne in the land of her ancestors and thus it was much more difficult for her to recover herself after departure (Kazuo Ishiguro, p 9).

Although Etsuko is so eager to delude herself, she cannot suppress this feeling, mostly because she associates oneself with another woman who also imperiled the well-being of her daughter. For instance, Sachikos story is very much analogous to her own. Moreover, her daughter, Mariko, experiences virtually the same difficulties; she is also estranged from other people and prefers solitude to the company of her friends. Her mother does not even care to think about her daughter’s needs. Unlike, Etsuko, this woman is entirely devoid of any sense of pity. The author wants to emphasize the idea that a person, who has any idea about such notions as morality or immorality, can hardly expect to purge his or her memory of such feeling as compunction. The only possible way is to acknowledge it and take some steps to amend the situation.

He finds a very interesting way to compare them: when they narrate their stories, we may see a very striking resemblance between them, not only in terms of the events that they describe but also from stylistic point of view. Sometimes, it is hardly possible to draw a distinct line between these two narratives. In this manner, Ishiguro tells us that these women are very much alike. Cynthia Wong maintains that the comparison of two women describes a cognitive process during which a person recovers his or her own identity.

Etsuko is so intent to erase her faults out of her consciousness, therefore the protagonist tries merge with the crowd, become part of something bigger than she. But her acquaintance, Sachiko is just her replica, and she never lets the protagonist to feel free. After Keikos suicide she immediately remembers this woman, who has also treated her child in a careless way. Cynthia Wong says that this duplication of characters reappears in many novels of Kazuo Ishiguro but in A Pail View of Hills, it is very strongly marked. Etsuko understands that other people will always remind her of her mistakes.

This is the main reason why Etsuko cannot forget her past. To some degree, Sachiko is just her reflection in the mirror. The novelist warns us against suppressing our past, because sooner or later it will enslave us. The main character is so eager to escape from it that eventually she becomes entrapped. Instead of helping her daughter Niki, she prefers to be reticent or shut herself from the rest of the world. Naturally, we should not presume that all these misfortunes are caused only by the loss of culture, in part they are connected with personal qualities. However, anyone, who has broken bonds with his or her own country and its traditions, is very likely to have serious emotional problems, as Etsuko and Keiko.

With the reference to the loss of culture and Keikos suicide, we should also speak about the adverse people who surround the family. The author makes it quite clear that they live in a very lonely place, and others do not want to communicate with them. After the war, Japanese immigrants found it very difficult to live in Europe or in America, because westerners were looking at them with uncertainty or even apprehension. This is due to some stenotypes, deep-rooted in Western society.

The author does not accuse any one but he draws an example of such stereotype, for instance, Etsuko says “The English are ford of the idea that our race has an instinct for suicide as if further explanations are unnecessary” (Ishiguro, p 14). In his article, James Lang argues that in some degree, this book indicts European or American way of thinking, because we are inclined to judge a person only by his or her appearance (Lang, 140). This theme has never been a dominant one in Ishiguros novels but in this work, the author tries to dispel some myths about Japanese people and their culture.

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It should be taken into consideration that Kazuo Ishiguro does not actually believe that such theme as the loss of cultural heritage is the most important aspect of his works; he even says “I always feel that Japaneseness was a superficial part of my writing” (Lewis, p 23). But we can notice this theme is quite traceable throughout this text. It can be observed in the relationships between Etsuko and her daughter Niki. In order to prove this point, we should first refer to the article by Ruth Forsythe, who examines the nature of family ties in the novel. The scholar believes that people from Asian countries are very likely to change their attitude to the family especially if they are living in Western societies (Forsythe, p 100).

From the outset, the author makes it very clear that the mother and daughter do not see much of each other. But the most striking detail is that Niki could not even find time to come to her sisters funeral. She cannot even remember her appearance, which is certainly unacceptable in any culture or community (Forsythe, p 103). Ruth Forsythe believes that such thing is unspeakable for Japanese society and the mother is quite aware of the fact that her family is falling apart.

Etsuko wants to turn a blind eye to this fact but she understands that Niki and she no longer have any devotion to one another. Nonetheless, she knows that without her she is almost bound to go insane. Niki is arguably the only person, who links her to the present and even now she is disinclined to stay with her mother. There relationships are more formal; the daughter visits Etsuko only because she is obliged to but not because she really wants to do it.

Therefore, it is quite possible for us to arrive at the conclusion that in this novel Kazuo Ishiguro mostly explores the loss of ones cultural identity and its adverse consequences, in particular, the feeling of guilt and weakening of family ties. He demonstrates it by various means and special emphasis is placed upon Etsukos inner dialogue, her desire to forget some of her past actions and inability to do it. The writer illustrates how she tries to deceive herself and the futility of these efforts. He intends to show us how difficult it is for people to get used to new cultural environment, this idea is expressed through such characters as Keiko and Mariko.

Apart from that Kazuo Ishiguro employs parallelism comparing Etsuko and Sachiko. He shows that haunting memories of the past, may be deep-rooted in a persons consciousness and it is impossible to eradicate them. With the reference to this aspect, he intends to prove that the adaptation to a new culture sometimes breaks the bonds existing between family members. This work is important to the extent that it laid foundations of his writing manner and many of his later works are reminiscent to this one.


Barry Lewis. “Kazuo Ishiguro”. Manchester University Press, 2000.

Cynthia F. Wong. “The Shame of Memory: Blanchot’s Self-Dispossession in Ishiguro’s ‘A Pale View of Hills” CLIO, (24), 2, 1995, pp 127-235.

James M. Lang. “Private History: Kazuo Ishiguro’s the Remains of the Day”. CLIO, (29), 2, 2000, pp 143-150.

Kazuo Ishiguro. “A pale view of hills”. Paperback, 1982.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Brian W. Shaffer, Cynthia F. Wong. “Conversations with Kazuo Ishiguro”. University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

Ruth Forsythe. “Cultural Displacement and the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills”. West Virginia University Philological Papers, 52, 2005, pp 99-110.

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