KazuoIshiguro wrote When We Were Orphans in 2000. Christopher Banks was the first person to narrate the story. Christopher Banks had established himself as a leading detective in London in the Holmesian mold and solved crimes no other man could. He set out to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his parents from Shanghai International Settlement thirty years earlier. He hopes to rebuild his life, save his parents, or save the planet from impending disaster. This is a plot to reorder the past to fit the story he wants to tell. It takes place in the context of social and political turmoil in Shanghai, 1937. I will examine his brave but failed attempt to heal the past wounds. As Christopher’s story unfolds you will see that Christopher’s personal, inwardly focused, attempt to reclaim his lost childhood is woven into a larger narrative of the search for national and racial identity.
Ishiguro’s novel has orphanhood as its central theme. The novel’s title is the first clue. It also contains the last sentence. The author uses his title as a clue to his narrative’s context and theme. “When We Were Orphans”, the novel’s retrospective narrative, refers to a past time “when” the central characters had been orphans. Ishiguro suggests that this book is about the mid-20th century, when humanity lost its way and was displaced. The Orphan Archetype is illustrated with a surprising amount of mythical, legendary and historical figures. This suggests that there is a close connection between being an Orphan Archetype and being a Hero. The hero is also inextricably linked to the orphan archetype. There are many examples in Western literature of the archetypal mythical orphan figure. Western literature is well-versed in the role of the orphan hero. This archetype is the main theme of Ishiguro’s novel. The Orphan characters are symbols of autonomy. They are depicted as resilient, resourceful, and full of potential. Anna Craycroft sees them as “ciphers and screens” on which readers project their enduring fantasies about autonomy and control. “Orphan theory” The orphan is the central character. In Orphan Theory, the orphan is the protagonist. Through their orphanhood, they can journey to self-discovery and a new identity. The most human story about self-knowledge in the face hostile circumstances is the orphan archetype. Craycroft describes this as “regressive independence”. She explained that being an Orphan means to have both the freedoms of childhood as well as the sophistications adulthood offers. Ishiguro seems to be obsessed with the orphan theme’s potential. Ishiguro explored the idea of exile as an Orphan in his previous novels, The Unconsoled and When We Were Orphans. He also included larger themes such as alienation, disconnection, and the present world.
Each novel has its protagonists as orphans on the search for their parents. Ishiguro’s protagonists can be found in situations of exile or not in harmony with their environment. The sensation of being out-of-place can be justified by the protagonist’s concern about past events, which Ishiguro uses flashback techniques to illustrate. Charlie Rose interviewed Ishiguro to describe When We Were Orphans. It was “A story of wanting the past to be fixed.” This theme is common to Ishiguro’s protagonists. Likely due to Ishiguro being an expat who suffers from the exact same cultural isolation, This thematic thread runs through his literature. It may be that Ishiguro was forced from Japan by his parents and adopted British culture as his surrogate culture. Ishiguro, a Japanese-American of Japanese descent, fled Japan with his parents when he was five years old. He speaks Japanese, but he says he cannot read Japanese characters. A Pale View of Hills is his first novel. An Artist of the Floating World is about Japanese themes. Ishiguro brings us Christopher Banks’ personal struggle with national identity in When We Were Orphans. When We Were Orphans finds that Christopher Banks must confront his childhood trauma of losing his parents. This trauma has formed his adult identity and his life. Craycroft’s “regressive personalization” is echoed by Ishiguro. He describes “that moment in our lives when it becomes clear that the world isn’t the safe place we were taught.” Even as adults, we still feel that sense of disappointment (Pg. 336).
When We Were Orphans is about a child that wants to make things right. Banks’ parents’ death may have led to him becoming a detective. He cannot overcome his loss, and is now paralysed. He is trapped like the Minotaur in a maze. His identity is directly affected by his orphanage. His orphanhood can be seen as his identity in many ways.