Gender Issues In "The Tale Of Genji"

1251 words - 5 pages

The Tale of Genji is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century, around the peak of the Heian period. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. While universally hailed as a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both Western and Eastern Canon has been a matter of debate (the Tale of Genji).
The Tale of Genji was written chapter by chapter, as Murasaki Shikibu delivered the tale to women of the aristocracy. It has many elements that are found in a modern novel including a central character and a very large number of major and minor characters. It has well-developed characterization of all the major characters, and a sequence of events happening over a period of time covering the Genji’s lifetime and beyond. The work does not make use of a plot and instead, events just happen and characters change simply by growing older. One remarkable feature of the Tale of Genji is its consistency, despite having some four hundred characters. One Example is that, all characters age, and all the family and feudal relationships are consistent among all chapters (the Tale of Genji).
A major ambition of any ranking gentlemen in the world of the Tale of Genji was to present a daughter to the Emperor or the Heir Apparent. Because of this the Emperor normally had a number of recognized relationships with women. Not because of sexual tendencies on his part but because he was required to make his prestige widely accessible to the members of the upper aristocracy. Below his one Empress he had several Consorts, and below that, a number of Intimates. His Mistress of Staff could in theory be a palace official and could also be in practice a junior wife. However these imperial women were not equal as an Empress was normally appointed from among the Consorts. But by no means did all the Consorts have any realistic hope of such success, with the Intimates having none at all. Their birth rank was too low, and they lacked the necessary weight of political support (Tyler).
In Murasaki Shikibu’s Heian court, the men were all officials of great and small importance. They studied things like philosophy, history, and law in Chinese, learned to write the Chinese language, and also composed Chinese poetry. They of course composed poetry in Japanese as well, but fiction was in principle at the time beneath their dignity, since it was classified as worthless fantasy. Still, some clearly knew about tales anyway and once the Tale of Genji came to be widely admired, it was the men who most visibly preached its worth (Tyler).
At the time women were not supposed to study Chinese, but some women still did. Murasaki Shikibu wrote in her diary that she taught the Empress to read Chinese poetry, but that she did it in secret. Chinese was considered very unladylike, even masculine....

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