Cultural structures are often very complex and unique guidelines that vary across the globe. These cultural aspects provide a prominent background into the lives of each society respectfully, as seen often throughout the historic piece of literature, The Tale of Genji. Three crucial aspects depicted in the novel’s progression are the role of women, Buddhism, and the political configuration, each containing positive and negative attributes prevalent in the tale. China was a powerful nation at the time, and during this age, these three societal concepts were important, yet controversial at times. These concepts can all be related directly back to the central character, Genji, along with the other vital people who, not surprisingly, have a connection in some way to Genji. The author, Murasaki Shikibu, strives, and successfully achieves in the unravelling of these three topics, and their roles in the story.
Almost immediately the reader discovers foreshadowing which shows that women will especially play a large role in the life of Genji. Genji is referred to as “a beautiful son, jewel beyond compare” (4), which demonstrates how highly Genji was portrayed from an early age, and shows that if Genji was considered a fine man at this age, once Genji developed and his life progressed, women would figure prominently in his life. The beauty of Genji never really vanishes, as he has good looks throughout his entire life and as a result, never really has issues meeting women and having intimate relationships with them. Genji is not content to settle for just one woman, as he always searches for multiple women to satisfy different needs, each of who possesses their own unique qualities – qualities he cannot find in other women. Since Genji always strives for multiple partners, each woman throughout the tale plays a different role, and impacts Genji’s life and the story in a completely different way. For example, Aoi is the daughter of the Minister to the Left, and is arranged to be married to Genji. This relationship carries no real aspect of love on the part of Genji, as he often neglects Aoi and goes off to be with other women. Only when she becomes pregnant and ill does Genji become a real part of her life, spending time with her, caring for her, with the hope of coming close to her, which in turn just shows the negative aspect of Genji’s personality. Aoi appears to serve no legitimate
purpose in Genji’s, since she is neglected until much later. Genji displays no signs of affection until Aoi becomes pregnant and sick, which shows that once she is at her weak and desperate state, Genji only then shows compassion for her. This could be a sign of guilt on Genji’s.
Another woman, simply known as Evening Faces, also fills a female role, though it is significantly different from Aoi’s. Genji becomes much more intimate with this woman, although Evening Faces gives off a very mysterious feeling. Genji notices her striking beauty upon first glance, and longs to discover more about this unknown commodity that is Evening Faces. The forbidden aspect makes this relationship much more unique, as Evening Faces plays the societal role of a commoner, keeping their relationship hidden to prevent scandals and shame from entering Genji’s life. Evening Faces however, mysteriously dies after their intimate encounter, leading Genji down a path of struggling and questioning the circumstances surrounding her death. Evening Faces seems to represent that mysterious, yet forbidden woman that Genji almost lusted for, and she seems to definitely have mental power over Genji, an almost spiritual state. Genji is entranced with her amazing beauty, and the fact her death impacts him emotionally shows that Genji felt very differently about her than other women.
Finally, Genji’s relationship with Murasaki, a young girl who Genji takes into his life and acts as a father figure, is unique to say the least. He attempts...
Bibliography: Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. Published by Vintage Books: New York, NY. 1976.
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