Genji Paper Cultural structures are often very complex and unique guidelines that vary across the globe. These cultural aspects provide a prominent background into the lives of each society respectfully, as seen often throughout the historic piece of literature, The Tale of Genji. Three crucial aspects depicted in the novel’s progression are the role of women, Buddhism, and the political configuration, each containing positive and negative attributes prevalent in the tale.
China was a powerful nation at the time, and during this age, these three societal concepts were important, yet controversial at times. These concepts can all be related directly back to the central character, Genji, along with the other vital people who, not surprisingly, have a connection in some way to Genji. The author, Murasaki Shikibu, strives, and successfully achieves in the unravelling of these three topics, and their roles in the story. Almost immediately the reader discovers foreshadowing which shows that women will especially play a large role in the life of Genji.
Genji is referred to as “a beautiful son, jewel beyond compare” (4), which demonstrates how highly Genji was portrayed from an early age, and shows that if Genji was considered a fine man at this age, once Genji developed and his life progressed, women would figure prominently in his life. The beauty of Genji never really vanishes, as he has good looks throughout his entire life and as a result, never really has issues meeting women and having intimate relationships with them.
Genji is not content to settle for just one woman, as he always searches for multiple women to satisfy different needs, each of who possesses their own unique qualities – qualities he cannot find in other women. Since Genji always strives for multiple partners, each woman throughout the tale plays a different role, and impacts Genji’s life and the story in a completely different way. For example, Aoi is the daughter of the Minister to the Left, and is arranged to be married to Genji. This relationship carries no real aspect of love on the part of Genji, as he often neglects Aoi and goes off to be with other women.
Only when she becomes pregnant and ill does Genji become a real part of her life, spending time with her, caring for her, with the hope of coming close to her, which in turn just shows the negative aspect of Genji’s personality. Aoi appears to serve no legitimate purpose in Genji’s, since she is neglected until much later. Genji displays no signs of affection until Aoi becomes pregnant and sick, which shows that once she is at her weak and desperate state, Genji only then shows compassion for her. This could be a sign of guilt on Genji’s.
Another woman, simply known as Evening Faces, also fills a female role, though it is significantly different from Aoi’s. Genji becomes much more intimate with this woman, although Evening Faces gives off a very mysterious feeling. Genji notices her striking beauty upon first glance, and longs to discover more about this unknown commodity that is Evening Faces. The forbidden aspect makes this relationship much more unique, as Evening Faces plays the societal role of a commoner, keeping their relationship hidden to prevent scandals and shame from entering Genji’s life.
Evening Faces however, mysteriously dies after their intimate encounter, leading Genji down a path of struggling and questioning the circumstances surrounding her death. Evening Faces seems to represent that mysterious, yet forbidden woman that Genji almost lusted for, and she seems to definitely have mental power over Genji, an almost spiritual state. Genji is entranced with her amazing beauty, and the fact her death impacts him emotionally shows that Genji felt very differently about her than other women.
Finally, Genji’s relationship with Murasaki, a young girl who Genji takes into his life and acts as a father figure, is unique to say the least. He attempts to mould her – much like a doll – into a woman who would possess all the qualities Genji strived for in a woman. He grows to love her, but then begins to fall in love with her, which impedes their relationship. Murasaki often doesn’t wish to see Genji or speak to him, so their relationship is troubled at times, but also quite strong and passionate.
Genji wants her in the role of the perfect woman, but Murasaki hopes for different things. Murasaki is envisioned by Genji to be the ideal women, so evidently Genji wants her to be an intrinsic part of his life, and therefore spends a lot of time pursuing Murasaki, though her daughter role and the role of possible lover alters the way Genji pursues her. Murasaki has the power to resist however, and she at times neglects Genji, which occasionally upsets him. This could parallel how Genji treats Aoi as often times, Murasaki does not want Genji to be part of her life.
Each of these three examples clearly outlines the different roles and influences women play throughout Genji’s life, and each one has the power to bring out different emotions and characteristics in Genji. Buddhism, a group of beliefs and practices which make up a prominent religion founded by Siddhartha Guatama, plays an imperative role in the court system. While the court systems tend to rule through aristocracy, an important few citizens rule, in a manner where most people of power are hereditary elite or have been elected by those who rule based on the vital qualities certain people possess.
One example of Buddhism playing a large role in the life of aristocracy occurs when Genji becomes exiled from the land. Genji’s father-in-law, the minister, an elderly, yet very powerful individual, speaks to Genji about his actions prior to their conversation. The minister says “when I see how things are with you, I know all too painfully what a sad day I have come on at the end of too long a life. I would have expected the world to end before this was allowed to happen, and I see not a ray of light in it at all. (238) Clearly, Genji has fallen out of favour with those in power, especially the way Genji treated the minister’s daughter, Aoi. Eventually, Genji’s exile begins to connect to the concept of Buddhism, as horrific weather conditions strike Genji and the few people with him as they journey across the land. Thunderstorms and rain fill the sky for days on end, in a way unknown to many people. Such a travesty could be explained as a form of punishment for Genji’s inappropriate actions.
The connection between Buddhism and aristocracy is clear, as this example shows how a person’s action could anger those in power, and thus also anger the spirits. The violations of Buddhism could lead to these punishments. Buddhism therefore, plays a large role at a crucial aspect of the story, as Genji’s exile marks the start of a new life, or at least gives him some perspective of how fortunate he was to grow up with so much power and potential. To be n favour with so many people, but just ask quickly, acting in a manner that disturbs not only those of power in the aristocracy, but also the higher power, shows that Buddhism is the centralized religion and is taken very seriously by those who pursue a good life, as many would fear the consequences of their actions. Another event that shows how Buddhism can be related to aristocracy occurs to the Second Emperor, who describes a dream of him with his father, where his father speaks predominately about Genji to Emperor #2.
Deeply troubled, the emperor tells of his dream on a stormy night about things that were on his mind. The emperor’s eyes meet the eyes of his angry father, which leads to a very serious and painful eye ailment. Besides that, Kokiden’s father dies, Kokiden herself becomes ill, and worsens as the days pass. The emperor believes that “so long as an innocent Genji was off in the wilderness, he fears, he must suffer. ” (299) As a result, the emperor suggests that Genji be restored to his old rank and position (299).
Though Genji’s actions are somewhat despicable and distasteful, the spirit of the second emperor’s father takes action and punishes his son for what he did to Genji, and the treatment of Genji, mainly exiling him. Buddhism plays a very interesting role throughout the story, as Buddhism effectively punishes Genji for his mistreatment of women and his lack of respect for his position and those who have high praise for him. However, Buddhism later punishes the 2nd emperor primarily because the spirit of his father is upset for the exile of Genji.
It appears that at the time, not one person is really safe with their actions, and if they went against the grain, the consequences would fit the crime. Buddhism serves as a guideline for living a pure, efficient, and respectful lifestyle. If this doesn’t occur, the spirits become enraged and deal with this not only to let those people suffer, but also to help them learn from their mistakes and fix the way of life toward a better path, and ultimately move them through the caste system. To elaborate on the influence of the caste system, Buddhism also helps to establish the caste system in society.
There is that responsibility to help others in order to move higher in the system through each caste level until a person reaches nirvana. Several examples from the book include when Genji reads the Lotus Sutra during the birth of Aoi’s child and also when Aoi is on the verge of dying. Another example occurs when the priests perform an exorcism on her when the spirit of the Rokujo Lady tries to kill her. A spirit exiting one’s body without the knowledge of that person is an example of Buddhism, and Lady Rokujo is unaware of what she has done until she realizes she smells of poppy seeds, which are used during the exorcism process.
The political aspect, which was previously touched on when connected to Buddhism, shows a deep history of aristocracy, keeping only a small number of people to rule over the rest of the population. The emperor has control, with the imperial family also possessing a respectable amount of power. Also, the ministers have political power as well, and many of these time periods tend to keep the power within the family, passing on certain positions, such as prince or emperor, to a son or a descendent of the person previously in power. In the book, we see toward the end that the Lady Shokyoden, the daughter of the Minister to the Right, has a son, ho at the time is considered far too young for the throne (306). It shows that it was favourable that once a family obtained power, any attempts to keep that power within their own lineage would be considered. Membership in aristocracy, such as China at this time, is not based on achievement, intelligence, or moral growth, which often meant that power wouldn’t necessarily be placed into the hands of the most deserving or the most efficient. This is a key reason that aristocracy was generally unsuccessful and often times considered a failure of government.
To restate the example above, upon Genji’s illustrious return, the son that is too young eventually becomes crown prince and Genji becomes a minister (319). This shows that keeping the power with the royal lineage is crucial and even if, for example, a person is exiled, like Genji, the likelihood of coming into future power is possible. However, disagreements often occur in the courts, such is the case of Genji, who often not only neglects Aoi, but also neglects court meetings in order to woo and become intimate with other women. Since he becomes exiled, this definitely bothers some people, such as the Minister to the Right.
However, this does not sit well with others, including his father, who appears to him through a dream, and causes him horrible pain and those important in his life. Also, the people who welcome and praise Genji upon his return, and the fact Genji is almost instantly made a minister shows that people of power will often disagree or have different opinions about a person or topic. Genji falling out of favour with the council, and those who rule at the time shows however, that the powerful are stern with their actions, and will take the necessary precautions with anyone who could possibly cause disruptions.
Many people are disgusted with how Genji would court many different women, and have affairs while he was not only married, but expecting a child as well. This reflects badly on the family, especially a family who at first considers Genji to be a magnificent son who could do great things one day. It causes shame and embarrassment, as it reflects on how the child was raised by the parents, and how the parents let these actions take place. These crucial aspects depicted during the novel’s progression (the role of women, Buddhism, and the political configuration) each contain positive and negative attributes prevalent in the tale.
These concepts, mainly connected to the central character, Genji, along with the other vital people, who not surprisingly, have a connection in some way to Genji, also show a complex connection each other, as presented above. The author, Murasaki Shikibu, strives, and successfully achieves the unravelling of these three topics, and their roles in the story. Bibliography Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. Published by Vintage Books: New York, NY. 1976.