In this paper I will be discussing the ideals of a man based on the Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu with translations by Royall Tyler, beginning with some background information on what the Tale of Genji is, then moving on to discuss the ideals that were presented in the story and how the ideals are contradicted.
The Tale of Genji, otherwise known as Genji Monogatari, is a classic Japanese literary work that was written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century and is considered to be the world’s first novel, depending on who is asked. The book was not written in order, but was instead written in chapters. There has been some debate on whether or not Murasaki wrote all of the chapters due to certain issues with continuity, however, most of the book is said to be written by her. What makes the book interesting and somewhat difficult to keep up with is the number of characters that appear throughout the work. Not only are they numerous, but they are also lacking names, often times being given titles rather than names. Some characters get a name as the book progresses, however most do not. The major influence of this is the Heian-era court itself. A name would constitute a family and if the family is important, then the eldest son of that family acquires the family name, thereby ensuring the lineage continues. Less important people were given just first names as a way to differentiate in rank.
Given the title, the premise of the book can be easily deduced. The main character, Genji, is described as being the most beautiful man ever, with equally impressive talents. Whatever Genji applied himself to, he excelled at. Wooing women, writing poetry, painting, among other things all came naturally to him as swimming comes naturally to a fish in a pond. However, he is not without flaws. There are times in the novel where Genji becomes the bane of himself, where his emotions cause him to become weak and ill. He does recover and live on, though.
Due to Genji’s looks and charm, women flock to him. However, any person presently living in any country that supports equal rights for men and women would notice that the view of a woman is much different than what they may be used to. Given the period, the view on the role of women is much different, as is apparent based on a talk between Genji and To no Chujo in chapter 2 of the book, a notable quote being that “A wife’s main duty is to look after her husband,” a common ideal by men of the period. This is when Genji is figuring out what kind of woman he should be looking for and has the most focus on the ideal woman.
As they discuss, To no Chujo says, “When a girl is highborn, everyone pampers her and a lot about her remains hidden, so that she naturally seems a paragon. Those of middle birth are the ones among whom you can see what a girl really has to offer and find ways to distinguish one from another. As for the lowborn, they hardly matter.,” which really does make it evident that people in...