The Ideal Of A Man, The Ideal Of A Woman Of The Heian Court Based On The Tale Of Genji

1400 words - 6 pages

Seen from descriptions in the most prominent literature works in Heian era, such as Ise Monotagari, Kagerō Nikki, Izumi Shikibu Nikki, Makura-no-Shōshi, and Genji Monogatari, gender roles during the period were implicitly or explicitly defined, and I assume, because of this climate, they were considered as major parts of the society, and vice versa. There are many characters appearing in Genji Monogatari. I think each of them is a representation of people whom Murasaki Shikibu had observed around her in her time, and that reviews of those characters are the key to a glimpse into ideal manliness and ideal femininity and manliness in the Heian era. In this paper, I will discuss the ideal images of men and women in Heian era by analyzing distinctive characters in those historical pieces, mainly from Genji Monogatari in comparison with the others.

Some concrete image of ideal women is described in the second chapter of Genji Monogatari, where Tō no Chūjō and a couple of his friends discuss over criterion for choosing good lovers and wives and share their experiences of love affairs. This discussion reveals some features of ideal women of the Heian era, in terms of social ranks, personality, looks, and gender roles as a wife and mother: someone who is in a rather high social status with education (middle-class preferred to highborn), not snobby but genuine, beautiful and young, good at taking care of children, and respectful to her husband. In fact, these characteristics of the ideal woman are already introduced in Chapter 1, by descriptions of Kiritsubo-no-Kōi and Fujitsubo. Before the reader reaches the end of the chapter, s/he will learn that Kiritsubo-no-Kōi is loyal to her husband and patient despite of other women’s harassing behaviors, reserved and does not take it for granted that the emperor loves her, as seen in the scene where she is about to die and still sincerely appreciates his words for her and replies to them in a poem, which proves her intelligence. That the emperor takes Fujitsubo as his second wife because she resembles Kiritsubo-no-Kōi shows that how beautiful they both are. Kiritsubo’s death, as still being beautiful and beloved by the man she loves, reminds me of the concept of mono-no-aware, referring to beauty, fragileness, and virtue of mortality. Similarly, Fujitsubo, who is the daughter of the earlier emperor, is physically attractive and loyal although she is rather attracted to Genji but does her best to adhere to her position as the emperor’s wife; she is a good representation of mono-no-aware as well in that to Genji she is unreachable although she, mutually caring for him, seems so close.
Ustusemi, appearing in the chapters 2 and 3, also represents what was considered to be a good woman; she is attractive, reserved, and witty enough to reply Genji’s poem. Despite the success of Genji’s first unexpected approach to Utsusemi, afterwards she consistently refuses him due to her strong, reasonable determination...

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