America as the Other: Alteration of Nations, Loyalties and Identities

In Chu-chueh Cheng’s article, “Cosmopolitan Alterity: America as the Mutual Alien of Britain and Japan in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Novels,’ she argues that Kazuo Ishiguro portrays America as the other in his novels through his narrators’ or protagonists’ observations of surroundings and their own personal feelings. Cheng successfully uses three of Ishiguro’s novels, A Pale View of Hills, An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day to demonstrate how America is viewed as the other in the eyes of the narrators after World War II. Cheng manages to use the texts to reveal how the presence of America or Americans in Britain or Japan causes natives to question or change their identities and devotion to their nation or it’s systems and traditions. Cheng’s analysis on these narrators also explains how the English language that describes America’s otherness causes separation between the locals of a nation and the outsiders, and how the idea of foreign otherness has become a normality in Japan and Britain due to international connections and integration.

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Cheng explains that two of the three novels are based in Japan, while the third takes place in Britain and even though the settings of the texts are distinct, they all present the influence of the foreigner’s or America’s presence on the natives’ way of life. Cheng argues that Ishiguro chose America as the other to represent himself in order to keep a dissociation between himself and the two nations he is linked to, Japan and England. Cheng analyzes that a quote from Rebecca L. Walkowitz would clarify why Ishiguro’s own loyalties are incomplete because Walkowitz explains how Ishiguro’s novels indicate an unwavering fidelity is impossible due to the fact that the texts reveal incomplete devotion to one’s nation or the other. Cheng further elaborates on Walowitz explanation and states that the divided or imperfect loyalty portrays indecisiveness and instability in choice and the flexibility of one’s sense of self.

Cheng declares that the presence of America in Ishiguro’s three novels causes change within Japan and Britain and within the natives themselves because it initiates “… ideological shifts and a cultural mutation that alienates older generations from younger generations; women from men; natives from their homeland; and, most poignantly, individuals from their former selves” (229). Cheng refers back to Walkowitz and restates her point by expressing that there is bound to be separation in a transformed setting and in terms of the novels, America or the other creates that separation as well as triggers rejection from some and adjustment from others amongst the Japanese and British inhabitants in their own homeland specifically after the war.

Cheng addresses one of Ishiguro’s novels, A Pale View of Hills and reveals that the Japanese protagonist, Etsuko recollects the time after the war when Japan was divided in two groups, the young and the older members of their society and how the younger generation wanted to reform the nation and their ways, while the older people wanted to maintain their customs and lifestyle. Cheng explains that Etsuko’s father-in-law, Ogata-San feels that the people of their nation have lost their faithfulness to what Japan was and in his eyes should still be, the real Japan, the Japan that existed prior to America’s infiltration, but his son, Jiro argues that the Japan they knew had many issues that America’s presence has fixed. Cheng analyzes that such disputes in the novel display the differentiation between generations and their mindsets towards America’s influence and towards the change or modernization of their country.

Cheng further discusses the difference of opinion by divulging that the older generation views America as the unwanted other, while the younger people like Etsuko think of America as a place where one can live a luxurious life with the liberty to make their own choices. Cheng argues that the elder generation represents Japan prior to the war and the younger generation represents the developing Japan, which is a result of the other’s affect on a nation in desperate need of reconstruction after becoming a war zone. Cheng claims that Etsuko’s friend, Sachiko’s scandalous relationship with an American allows Etsuko to admit her own undignified association with a British man; therefore, as the other, America symbolizes the conflict Etsuko tries to cover to justify her former actions but also becomes Etsuko’s way of coming to terms with what she did.

Cheng moves on to Ishiguro’s next novel, An Artist of the Floating World and compares it to A Pale View of Hills by noting that both novels use the narrators to express bitterness towards who the Japanese become and what their nation turns into as a result of America’s presence in Japan. Cheng points out that in An Artist of the Floating World, the elderly protagonist and storyteller, Masuji Ono reveals an extensive or elaborate view of the older generation, which is explored in less depth in A Pale View of Hills because the narrator is of the younger generation. Cheng reveals that Ono accuses Americans, their way of life, customs and ideas about independence and egalitarianism for Japan’s younger generation’s mental distance from their homeland, former traditions, and even from their own people. Cheng highlights that while the idea of America’s presence is significantly brought up, there are no Americans that physical appear throughout the present time of the narrative; therefore, Ono uses American fictional characters, and his reformed surroundings to verify his belief of America as the other.

Cheng argues that Ono longs for the past, but he discontinues his work as an artist and conceals his previous creations because of his dislike of America, which is what Ono’s present and former life story revolves around, and because of the effects the American presence had in Japan prior to the war. Cheng brings attention to the fact that Ono perceives the altered young people as unfaithful, yet Ono himself deceived many people from his past, such as his father and his art instructors to achieve what he wanted; therefore, “The disloyalty he associates with the changes in other characters ironically correlates to the variability of loyalty he fails to concede in his own past” (232). Cheng explicates that Ono is incapable of seeing that his actions categorize him under the very term he resents, disloyal.

Cheng shifts from An Artist of the Floating World by starting his discussion on The Remains of the Day and observes that in Ishiguro’s previous two texts, America or the other exists in the narrators’ lives in Japan mostly conceptually or without actually being seen, but in The Remains of the Day, which takes place in Britain, Americans are the other while being physically present throughout the nation. Cheng continues that the narrator, Steven works for an American and as an Englishman he sees his people as collectively refined and Americans as the complete opposite; therefore, he portrays them as being rude and unusual. Cheng combines the concept of the alterity of oneself with qualification and faithfulness by analyzing that Steven takes pride in his status as a servant because he feels it reveals the value of his dedication to his occupation. Cheng continues by arguing that Steven doesn’t understand how his mindset and fidelity is necessitated by the English upper-class society; therefore, to nobility, Steven is classified as the other. Cheng points out that Americans and Englishman speak the same tongue but have very distinct rules of speech; therefore, through misunderstood dialogue on both ends, America’s position as the other increases or is made more evident within the novel.

Cheng claims that Steven’s strong belief regarding expertise and his devotion to his job leads him to attempt to mimic his boss, Farraday’s style of speech in order to impress him; therefore, he creates a connection through English with an American, even though he uses the language to verify difference as well, which indicates that he is unable to free himself of that which he resents, the American other.

Cheng relates the concept of English to Ishiguro’s previous two novels and states that the fact that Ishiguro depicts the lives of Japanese protagonists in Japan and their resentment of America in the American language creates a “double apostrophe” effect in which both the Japanese and the American are out of place (233). Cheng clarifies that this is so because the Japanese are in an Americanized environment in their own nation while Americans are side-lined by some in Japan. Cheng reveals that this concept is displayed in A Pale View of Hills because Etsuko lives in Britain, yet she addresses Englishman as the other and classifies herself as one of the Japanese;

therefore, due to where she resides, the roles are switched, and she becomes the other in the eyes of the majority. Cheng explains that Etsuko comments on Americans’ insufficiency in languages other than English as if she is narrating to Japanese spectators or readers, but considering her narration is mostly in the American language, the readers or listeners change to those that can clearly comprehend the language, therefore, to the other. Cheng declares that Etsuko views Britain as the other in the present and America as the other in her recollection of her past; therefore, she can be seen as an indecisive and undependable narrator because she consistently refers to both America and Britain as the other to conceal the English identity she’s adopted while living in Britain and the fact that she is distant from her former Japanese identity.

Cheng refers back to An Artist of the Floating World and argues that Ono classifies the American other based on peculiarity which highlights the fact that he is unable to recognize his own eccentricity in the eyes of those around him. Cheng points out that like Etsuko, Ono is also addressing a Japanese audience, but the English account swaps the intended audience to the other. Cheng notes that Ono has an impression of what something with an American style would look like and what Americans would find typically Japanese, which a Japanese person wouldn’t, but despite this fact, the Japanese, including Ono ridicule themselves by continuing to present Americans or the other with what the Americans view as Japanese rather than what is. Cheng comments on the ending of the novel by stating that Ono expresses uncertainty towards the reformation of Japan through America because even though he submits to and accepts the change, he is still somewhat saddened by it.

Cheng also reveals that Ono’s present role and identity converts at the end of the novel as he accepts Japan’s modernization from a singled-out narrator to one of the elderly onlookers who leave their nation in the hands of the younger and new or upcoming generations. Cheng analyzes the ending further and suggests that Ono addresses himself and his people as one or communally but refers to the younger generation separately, which displays his own indecisiveness regarding where he stands amongst his people in a developing Japan and reveals that there is an unchanging difference between the two generations, or the regretful and the optimistic. Cheng questions Ono’s narration by pointing out that Ono speaks to the audience about America’s otherness as if they are Japanese but tends to give explanations about Japanese customs as if the listener is the other; therefore, this fact as well as the language the narration is spoken or written in makes it unclear who Ono is talking to.

Cheng returns to his discussion on The Remains of the Day by restating that Steven is trapped between his feelings against Americans and his opinion on occupational faithfulness because his boss is American; therefore, Steven has to discard his former self and attachments creating instability within the narrator and an uncertainty for the reader in terms of Steven’s position or standpoint on the American other for a part of the novel. Cheng divulges that by the end of the text, Steven rejects his former identity, mindset and associations and accepts the American other by reflection on himself as the other. Cheng concludes her section on the double apostrophe by raising questions and asks what Ishiguro’s motifs are, what is he was trying to accomplish with his novels, how does he want his protagonists to be seen and how does he want his readers to react to the concept of the American other.

Cheng discusses that based on an interview with Ishiguro, it’s clear that he wrote A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World the way he did considering the narrators are Japanese because even though they are written in English, the texts manage to maintain a distance from the language. Cheng continues that the narration isn’t in typical English and has an alien quality to it because of the way the narrators speak and the words or phrases they use; therefore, in a sense it stays true to the narrators’ Japanese nativity. Cheng points out that Japanese terms are rarely used and that they aren’t essential to the comprehension of the two novels because the words are mainly utilized to portray common aspects of Japanese customs. Cheng reiterates her previous point by arguing that the more that is explained about the Japanese traditions, the more it emphasizes that the listener or reader is the other, who is unaware of these facts because if the audience is meant to be Japanese, then references or clarifications of Japanese values are unnecessary; therefore, the fact that they are given makes it unclear who the intended audience is. Cheng declares that Ishiguro uses English in an usual manner in order to cover the oddity of Japanese, presenting it as more refined than English.

Cheng claims that both novels draw international readers due to the English text and separate themselves from the Japanese point of view such as of those exhibited by the two narrators. Cheng elaborates on an earlier argument by stating that as Ishiguro nurtures the Japanese language through English accounts, he also alters English into an old-fashion, almost foreign language, which creates a conflicting effect for the American or English other and the Japanese readers who don’t know how to interpret what Ishiguro has constructed. Cheng analyzes that even though the narrator is an Englishman, the concept of strange speech is also presented in The Remains of the Day because Steven’s manner of speaking may seem proper but even for someone who speaks the English language, his expressions are unusual. Cheng reveals that Steven’s narration is similar to Ono’s and Etsuko’s because it seems as if the original narration was in Japanese and has been converted to English.

Cheng concludes that the shared ability to adapt to Japan or Japanese and Britain or English reveals how America’s otherness is an issue for both nations America has infiltrated, which also portrays the complex association between Ishiguro, his narrators, those being narrated to within the texts and the readers. Cheng continues that the concepts of otherness, identity and faithfulness are intertwined within the three novels because America as the other reveals betrayal or infidelity of the characters towards themselves and who they are, those around them or their nation. Cheng argues that the novels reveal that commitment to the other is possible, that one can feel isolated in their own homeland and that limits one creates or maintains between themselves and the other changeable. Cheng ends her article by stating that all three novels display suffering due to disagreements, how the characters swap their identities and become the other, and how the characters, including the narrators don’t know who to be faithful to, themselves, their nation, or the American other.

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America as the Other: Alteration of Nations, Loyalties and Identities. (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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