The Doctor's Wife: The Use of Symbols

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In her novel The Doctor’s Wife, Sawako Ariyoshi uses the same symbols effectively in order to explore the two focal themes of the book, relationships and gender roles. The aforementioned themes run throughout the novel and create a more sensitive effect for the reader, as both the themes are prevalent in our current society too and paint a picture of the Japanese society in the 18th. Century. The author uses a plethora of symbols in the novel to explore the themes. However, the few most significant ones are the loom, medicine, and the graves that the bodies of the perished Hanaokas are eventually buried in.

The author uses the loom, in terms of gender discrimination, to symbolize the prejudice prevailing in the Japanese society. For instance, after the women of the Hanoaka household toiled extremely hard and spent endless hours at the loom in order to raise money, “The entire amount was then sent to Seishu”. The women were barely credited for their diligence and dedication, let alone receiving a reward for it. This loom symbolically represents the injustice women were served with. Every penny that was earned was used to support the male heir of the family, and any thought of saving money for the marriages of the two unmarried and aging daughters in the house, Koriku and Okatsu, was blatantly ignored. Therefore, the author uses the loom in a way that it acts as a sign of restriction, which bars the women of the house from considering anything beyond their only brother’s success. *

However, soon after Seishu finally endured success as a doctor and earned a “reasonably good income”, the women of the household no longer “worked” at the loom to cater to his betterment. The loom is now employed to symbolize a sudden sense of freedom felt by the women, as they can now consider spending on their personal needs. However, this symbol of freedom sheds light on another sort of injustice the women are served with - the injustice of being used. While the “man” (Seishu) was unable to cater for himself and his family, the women were used as tools to earn for the living of all. However, in Seishu’s professional downfall, the author depicts the women as mere objects that are made to cease working at the loom for Seishu. By constantly shifting roles as per the “male’s” convenience, the author demonstrates that it became extremely difficult for the women in the household to actually identify what their real “role” was. The loom symbolizes the idea of the loss of identity amongst women and also acts as a synecdoche for most Japanese women in the 18th century.

Moreover, medicine is another essential symbol that the author uses effectively in order to highlight the theme of gender roles. Majority of the novel is constructed around Seishu and his journey towards succeeding as a medicinal practitioner. While Seishu was continuously flooded with patients, he didn’t hesitate to treat them without any sort of remuneration, this is evident in “dispensing medicine”, out of “ expensive herbs” . All the money was spent on his medicinal practices, considering he was the “man” in the family and fulfilling his demands was of primary importance. The family’s existing penury and the fact that this meant sacrificing their general food intake, as made evident in “they subsisted on millet porridge mixed with small diced potatoes” was completely overlooked. The author makes the reader more poignant by combining the image of a pregnant Kae to the already remorseful picture. The author shows that Seishu felt no sense of concern in terms of striving to be economically stronger to support his pregnant wife. Instead Otsugi made her best effort to provide her with “cooked rice – all she could eat of it” and “extra portions of silver carp”. It is evident that Seishu’s insatiate hunger for success in terms of medicine blinds him completely. In this case, dominance of the male’s needs overshadows the vulnerability and need of a pregnant woman completely....
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