“The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji is one of the most outstanding masterpieces of Japanese literature. It is one of the greatest works highlighting the main features of aristocratic culture of the Heian period and also the first world’s novel. It is the diamond of Japanese classical literature. This work depicts many problems of that day Japanese society. The Tale of Genji gives deliberate understanding of the role of woman in society and her place in the aristocratic world, pointing out main laws and features of aristocracy.

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Primarily, the historical concept of The Tale of Genji should be analyzed. It is worth to say that the author of this novel was a woman – Murasaki Shikibu. She was a daughter of a member of the Fujiwara clan. During the period of Heian reign, the Fujiwara clan was an ascendant one. Hence, in some sense, this work is biographical because the author lived in that society, according to established aristocratic rules of Heian period. She was writing about evident facts of that time. In this work, the author gives accurate characteristics of female characters. The role of the women in that period was absolutely opposit to that of the modern society. Therefore, an analysis of The Tale of Genji provides a possibility to investigate the development of different kinds of female images and aristocracy though the historical paradigm.

It is widely known that aristocracy is a form of reigning the country when there is one main ruling family. This family is the head of society, and reign transmits via family ties. The same form of ruling the state was in Japan during the period when The tale of Genji was written. Taking into consideration that the Fujiwara clan headed the country during the Heian period, the emperor tried to hold his aristocratic power through the family ties. In history, such phenomenon is called marriage politics. In this regard, such tendency was the main theme in The Tale of Genji. To illustrate, a sister of the princess’s mother had married Durio and had already born him a daughter. This marriage had been considered an unequal match by the father of the princess, and for this reason, she was not very friendly with the family (Shikibu, 1974).

In Heian society, everyone, either aristocrats or ordinary people, had to follow general rules. The Manna style and pedantic phrases were not meant for them., If they used those expressions, the public would only have said, “Would that they would remember that they are women and not man,” and they would only incur the reproach of being pedants as many ladies, especially among the aristocracy, do (Shikibu, 1974).

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One more distinguishable feature of aristocratic Japanese society was intelligence. Highly educated people were a privileged class. Additionally, the master of the word was in a high position within aristocratic culture. They extremely cherished and respected poetry whereas this literary art was believed to be a bridge in relationships between men and woman. Shikibu (1974) enclosed in the note the following lines, in which she hinted to her doubts of the steadfastness of Genji’s character: “Your heart admires the lovely flower that dwells within our mountain bower.”

The image of Genji is a vivid example of a Japanese aristocratic man, embodying all general rules of the Heian period. Talking about Genji and the collapse of aristocracy, it is worth to mention different points of his life. He had a power to rule his nation as well as all aristocratic governors. However, Genji did not have good mother’s blood, and he could not be in proper status. Due to this reason, the character of Genji manifested the collapse of aristocracy.

Naturally, every era, every period in history of a country has its beginning, its climax, and its collapse. Consequently, the Heian period also went to its end. It happened as the ruling power lost control over the most parts of the state because of the great influence on its aristocracy.

Generally, in this novel, there are more female characters than male ones. Every woman in this literary work can be regarded an archetype of certain types of female nature. In The Tale of Genji, each women image is polyhedral, with a deep sense of understanding the inner world.

For instance, such female character as Lady Akashi, who has characteristics of reserved and intelligent person, may be considered. In The Tale of Genji, she can be seen as an archetype of aristocratic wife and mother. In the light of Heian period, Lady Akashi is a gentle and tender female character with deep soul. She was a representative of the middle-class Heian woman, being a daughter of a provincial governor. It is notable that although she was not of the upper society layer, she had prominent calligraphy, which made her an outstanding individual for that time aristocratic society, where intelligent people were highly honoured. On the one hand, Lady Akashi was unique with her own traits of character. On the other hand, she had something similar in her behavior with Lady Rokujo. The first time Genji converses with her, he immediately recalls the bearing of Lady Rokujo (Shikibu, 1974).

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The second aspect of Lady Akashi’s image is that she possesses those characteristics that a high-class husband requires. Particularly, in the period of Heian reign, there were many cases of political marriages. As Lady Akashi had a daughter, she was competitive in those societies since there was an opportunity that her daughter would marry the royal family member.

Nevertheless, Lady Akashi is also a representative of domestic women, who was not devoid of feelings of love. She had strong feelings to Genji, although she hid them deep in her heart. Lady Akashi was a kind of person who could suffer and sacrifice to her love or family. All her life she lived for someone. She gave all she had and did all she could, without demanding something instead. In her life, she followed the words of her father: whatever pleasures this life offers, do not forget the life to come (Shikibu, 1974). In the life of this woman, there was a bright picture of mix of love and suffering. Lady Akashi is a great example of a strong and, at the same time, tender woman. She is that typical Japanese female image of the Heian period – the timeframe of aristocracy and highly valued education.

To conclude, The Tale of Genji is the top work of Japanese literature and culture at large. It is a masterpiece of art classics. This literary work possesses many deep themes, which gives the possibility for literary, cultural, and historical analysis of this novel.


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