Life Of A Sensuous Woman, By Ihara Saikaku

1265 words - 5 pages

In the novel Life of a Sensuous Woman, Ihara Saikaku depicts the journey of a woman who, due to voraciously indulging in the ever-seeking pleasure of the Ukiyo lifestyle, finds herself in an inexorable decline in social status and life fulfillment. Saikaku, utilizing characters, plot, and water imagery, transforms Life of a Sensuous Woman into a satirically critical commentary of the Ukiyo lifestyle: proposing that it creates a superficial, unequal, and hypocritical society.

Ukiyo is a culture that strives to live a strictly pleasure-seeking routine. The largest flaw in this way of life, as Saikaku points out, is that its superficial nature forces people to live lives as meaningless and fluffy as its name, the “Floating World,” suggests. It is shallow in the physical sense, in that it focuses primarily on “beautiful” external appearances, and in the metaphorical sense, whereby individuals never really make deep-seated connections to anyone because of their addiction to finding these so-called pleasures. One particular character that Saikaku satirizes to embody this superficial nature of Ukiyo is the old, rotting woman found on the verandah in the episode of “A Monk’s Wife in a Worldly Temple.” He cleverly employs situational irony with this character to prove his point, as it is expected for the archetypal old woman to pass moral lessons to the younger generation. By the character’s own, sorrowful admission she claims that she “can’t forget about sex” and is going to “bite right into” (Saikaku 614) the protagonist; completely the opposite of what the audience expects her to say. This satire highlights the extent to which the Ukiyo lifestyle socially conditions individuals; the old woman is so far gone down that path that she no longer is accustomed to regular human interactions. He further elaborates the consequence of having indulged in this lifestyle when it is mentioned that the old woman has been cast aside into the deepest corner of the temple because she “got old” (614). This then suggests that women are of little worth once their looks and sex appeal have waned. Such a claim is paralleled by the protagonist’s own realization near the end of the novel, after many years of following the path of Ukiyo, whereby she states: “our bodies really do disappear completely” (620) and then we are left with nothing. Saikaku, through these characters and situations, foreshadows the ultimate outcome for individuals of his own society if they were to fall prey to the superficiality of Ukiyo.

This shallowness in the Ukiyo lifestyle indisputably breeds gender discrimination and stereotypes. In fact, the inequality is immediately echoed in Saikaku’s opening line: a woman is “an ax that cuts down a man’s life” (605). Throughout the entire novel the audience is continually reminded about these gender discrepancies, and of the expectations placed upon individuals to conform to the status quo of their gender roles. Women in particular, receive the brunt of...

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