Japanese Gender Roles As Reflected In A Grove By Akutagawa Ryunosake

2627 words - 11 pages

“Akutagawa Ryunosake opened a hole in our consciousness. We circled the edge of the abyss, peering into its depths.” Yokomitsu Riichi
Truth is not the only relative subject matter Akutagawa Ryunosake questions in his short story, “In a Grove.” The text is an enigmatic view of everything from traditional Japanese symbolism to traditional gender roles. These paradoxes are reflected not only in the questions raised by each character’s version of the truth, but in the upended stereotypes of traditional Japanese symbols and revealed in each witness’ response to the crime. Interestingly, Akutagawa wraps the whole story in the framework of an old Japanese Konjaku folk-tale and rewrites it to tell a modern tale where everything is in opposition to traditional Japanese perception. As reflected in the era he wrote the story, Akutagawa throws tradition on its ear and fills the story with contradictions. When examining the text of “In the Grove,” through the lens of Japanese symbolism, every detail in the story is a commentary that opposes a traditional reading of the text. It becomes clear that Akutagawa was not only skewering traditional notions of truth but his depictions of the thief, the samurai and the woman’s account of the rape reveals a modernist interpretation of this crime and presents a “new” response to these ideas in his story. At first glance, it may appear that this story is a laundry list of stereotypical rape myths but the gender roles Akutagawa presents in this story are representative of a new woman who is taking her destiny in her own hands.
Rape is a terrible crime which is the ultimate violation of a person’s innermost self. The crime of rape in the story “In the Grove” is cast differently because of cultural and historical ideas of sexuality in Japan during the time the story was written. In the first place, the crime described in the story is of the murder of the samurai. Rape is not even considered a criminal offense in this text. Masago, the Samurai’s wife is introduced in the text by the priest as, merely “a woman on a horse…wearing a cloth covering over her head, so I never saw her face” (Akutagawa 212). Her husband is in control. She has no identity of her own. She is simply an extension of her husband’s property, much like another piece of luggage. However, her mother describes her as “strong-willed, like a man” (Akutagawa 213). During the Heian period, the time portrayed, a married woman was no more than a servant to her husband’s family and a vessel to birth a male heir. Even in Akutagawa’s era, women had very few rights. Author Sarah Halperin claims in her article “From Didactic Folktale to Ingenious Art” that “In a Grove” was loosely based on a Japanese folktale or Konjaku titled “How a Man who was Accompanying His Wife to Tanba Province Got Trussed up at Oeyama” (Halperin 510). The story has the same skeleton of “In a Grove,” however, Akutagawa significantly changes the story, turning a traditional moralistic folk tale...

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