A Pale View of Hills
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"A Pale View of Hills" Characters Analysis

By Kazuo Ishiguro

fiction | 183 pages | Published in 2010

Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman now living alone in England, dwells on the recent suicide of her elder daughter, Keiko. Despite the efforts of her surviving daughter to distract her thoughts, Etsuko finds herself recalling a particular summer in Nagasaki after the bomb fell.


Estimated read time: 7 min read


In Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, "A Pale View of Hills," he presents a cast of complex characters whose lives are interwoven with themes of memory, grief, and cultural displacement. This character analysis explores the key players in the narrative, their roles, traits, backgrounds, and relationships, shedding light on their significance within the story.

List of Characters

Below is a list of the main characters in "A Pale View of Hills":

Character NameRole
SachikoEtsuko's daughter
NikiEtsuko's other daughter
MarikoFormer friend of Etsuko
JiroMariko's husband
Mr. FujiwaraEtsuko's first husband
KeikoMariko and Jiro's daughter
RhodaEtsuko's coworker
LauraEtsuko's boarding house roommate

Role Identification

The protagonist, Etsuko, is at the center of the narrative, guiding readers through her memories. Etsuko's daughters, Sachiko and Niki, add depth to her character by highlighting her experiences as a mother. Mariko, Jiro, Mr. Fujiwara, Keiko, Rhoda, and Laura, on the other hand, play supporting roles, influencing Etsuko's recollections and reflecting aspects of her past.

Character Descriptions

  1. Etsuko: Etsuko is a middle-aged Japanese woman who currently resides in England. Although she appears reserved, her complex memories reveal a deeper emotional turmoil.
  2. Sachiko: Sachiko, Etsuko's daughter, embodies the struggles of cultural assimilation as a biracial child. She exemplifies the generational gap that exists between Etsuko and her children.
  3. Niki: Etsuko's younger daughter, Niki, is portrayed as a free-spirited and rebellious teenager. Her presence serves as a reminder of the challenges Etsuko faced in raising her children.
  4. Mariko: Mariko is Etsuko's former friend from Nagasaki. She carries a tragic past and represents the impact of war and loss on individuals.
  5. Jiro: Mariko's husband, Jiro, is a passionate and patriotic Japanese man who believes in preserving the traditional values of his culture.
  6. Mr. Fujiwara: Etsuko's first husband, Mr. Fujiwara, is a distant and cold character. His presence highlights the constraints and pressures within their marriage.
  7. Keiko: Keiko is Mariko and Jiro's daughter, and Etsuko's niece. She is depicted as a troubled child, haunted by the shadows of her family's past.
  8. Rhoda: Rhoda is one of Etsuko's coworkers in England. As an English woman, she brings an outsider's perspective to the novel.
  9. Laura: Laura is Etsuko's roommate in the boarding house, representing the contrast between Western and Japanese values.

Character Traits

Let's delve deeper into the key traits that define each character:

  1. Etsuko: Resigned, reflective, and haunted by memories.
  2. Sachiko: Conflicted, torn between her Japanese heritage and English upbringing.
  3. Niki: Rebellious, seeking independence and identity.
  4. Mariko: Withdrawn, burdened by grief and loss.
  5. Jiro: Traditional, nationalistic, and determined to preserve Japanese customs.
  6. Mr. Fujiwara: Emotionally distant, aloof, and detached.
  7. Keiko: Troubled, disturbed, and silently yearning for stability.
  8. Rhoda: Curious, open-minded, and fascinated by Japanese culture.
  9. Laura: Assertive, independent, and grounded in Western values.

Character Background

Understanding the characters' backgrounds is crucial to comprehending their motivations and actions:

  1. Etsuko: Etsuko grew up in Nagasaki during World War II, witnessing the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. Her life was shaped by the trauma of war and the loss of her family members.
  2. Sachiko and Niki: Born in England, Sachiko and Niki embody the contrasting cultures of Japan and the West. They navigate the complexities of their dual heritage and grapple with issues of identity.
  3. Mariko: Mariko's tragic past is rooted in the loss of her child during the war. She carries the weight of guilt and emotional anguish.
  4. Jiro: As a fiercely nationalistic Japanese man, Jiro's background is characterized by his adherence to traditional customs and his desire to maintain cultural heritage.
  5. Mr. Fujiwara: Little is known about Mr. Fujiwara's background, but his emotional detachment and absence throughout the narrative hint at unresolved tensions within his relationship with Etsuko.
  6. Keiko: Keiko's background is deeply intertwined with the experiences of Mariko and Jiro. She bears witness to the repercussions of war and familial tragedy.
  7. Rhoda: Rhoda's background as an Englishwoman provides a contrasting perspective to the predominantly Japanese characters, offering insights into the tensions between different cultures.
  8. Laura: Laura's background is characterized by her independence, reflecting the evolving social norms of the Western world during the time period.

Character Arcs

Each character undergoes personal growth and transformation throughout the story:

  1. Etsuko: Etsuko's character arc revolves around her attempts to reconcile with the haunting memories of her past and come to terms with her choices as a mother.
  2. Sachiko and Niki: Sachiko and Niki's arcs revolve around their struggles as biracial individuals, grappling with questions of belonging and identity.
  3. Mariko: Mariko's character arc is marked by a quiet resilience as she confronts her past traumas and finds solace in acceptance.
  4. Jiro: Jiro's arc centers on his efforts to maintain the cultural heritage of Japan, challenging societal norms and paving the way for future generations.
  5. Mr. Fujiwara: Although Mr. Fujiwara's character arc remains relatively stagnant, his absence serves as a catalyst for Etsuko's introspection and personal growth.
  6. Keiko: Keiko's character arc explores the impact of her family's tragic past on her state of mind and her search for stability.
  7. Rhoda: Rhoda's character arc represents the evolving perception of Japanese culture through her friendship with Etsuko and her fascination with their shared history.
  8. Laura: While not as prominent as other characters, Laura's arc revolves around her growing appreciation for Japanese culture and her understanding of Etsuko's experiences.


The relationships between the characters in "A Pale View of Hills" further deepen their individual narratives:

  1. Etsuko and Mariko: Etsuko and Mariko's friendship is shaped by shared memories and their collective experiences of loss. Mariko's suicide profoundly affects Etsuko and leaves an indelible mark on their relationship.
  2. Etsuko and Sachiko/Niki: Etsuko's relationship with her daughters reflects the generational rift caused by cultural displacement and the struggle to bridge the gap between different cultural identities.
  3. Mariko and Jiro: Mariko and Jiro's marriage highlights the tensions between tradition and personal desires. Their relationship illuminates the societal expectations placed on individuals during post-war Japan.
  4. Etsuko and Keiko: Etsuko's relationship with Keiko is characterized by a shared sense of loss and the burden of familial tragedy. It is within this relationship that Etsuko confronts her own failures as a mother.
  5. Etsuko and Rhoda/Laura: Etsuko's relationships with Rhoda and Laura provide glimpses of cultural exchange and curiosity. These connections offer Etsuko a new perspective on her own life.


"A Pale View of Hills" presents a web of interconnected characters whose lives are shaped by trauma, memory, and cultural displacement. Through their unique roles, traits, backgrounds, arcs, and relationships, each character adds depth and complexity to the narrative, offering insight into the themes explored by Kazuo Ishiguro in this poignant novel.