The purpose of this blog will to be focus on the roles women have played within several in-class texts. Basically, we will be analyzing the social standards imposed on women, their place within society, and their symbolic meaning within said society. The claims we will develop are that women have played a submissive yet powerful role within society as intermediaries of class, wealth, fortune and, in some cases, superstition. Finally, we will discuss the evolution of women within society towards the end of our project.
Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain)- “Kibitsu no Kama” (The Cauldron of Kibitsu) written by Ueda Akinari starts off with a large rice cauldron that indicates good or bad fortune; if the sound is loud and clear, it means fortune and when there is no sound it means misfortune. Shotaro the main character pulls on the sleeve of a beautiful woman named Isora. She is the daughter of Kasada Miki, the chief priest of Kibitsu. Isora is an unmarried noblewomen; there was a footnote that said unmarried noblewomen would hide their faces from men with the long sleeves of their kimono. Shotaro’s status in society is of the low-class and he says if the marriage were to take place, his family would ascend to aristocracy class. The divination of the cauldron at the shrine whistled loud and clear and so Shotaro and Isora married. Isora was a dutiful wife who woke up early in morning to do chores such as hoeing and had other capabilities like clean fish and pluck chickens. She was a good wife in that she made breakfast for Shotaro. If she remained in the Kasada household, she would be playing the koto, but now her hands have become rough because of work. She regrets nothing as long as she can make a good wife to Shotaro. Isora doesn’t know that Shotaro is messing with a prostitute named Sode. Shotaro’s father catches him in the act and Isora defends Shotaro and from the father’s scolding saying “I am sure all this happened because the other woman somehow deceived him to go to her.” From thereon the cauldron is dead silent. Isora sold her kimonos and gave the money to help out Sode. Shotaro leaves Isora and goes to Sode being ungrateful of her act of kindness. Sode starts getting nightmares every day since the passing of Isora, who became an angry vengeful ghost and is haunting Shotaro. Isora repeats the lines in Sode’s body:”I regret nothing, as long as I can be a good wife to you. Your Isora regrets nothing.” Shotaro freaks out and doesn’t survive the last day behind the charms of the closed house and both Shotaro and Sode die. The cauldron resounds loud and clear upon someone’s wish of coming true. The story ends with: “That is why you must never twist the answer of the gods.”
This story is similar to Akinari’s Bewitched in the case a supernatural force is plagued upon the main characters. Much alike Manago being placed in a higher station in society, Isora was the daughter of a head priest so she was also placed into higher society. It is comparable to Akinari’s usage of character in Manago in the Bewitched story where she is a symbol of a deceiver. Isora gave Shotaro the benefit of the doubt in his defense saying Sode somehow deceived him to going to her. Could it be that Akinari just thinks of women as people who manipulate and deceive men? Women were portrayed as intermediaries of class, wealth, and fortune. Here, Shotaro, the male main character of the story “Kibitsu no Kama” acts as an intermediary of class and fortune. Shotaro resides in low-class society and mentions how his family would ascend to aristocracy class when the marriage is done. His social standing would increase when he and Isora marries. The cauldron itself is a representation of fortune- good and bad. Shotaro was a part of good fortune, Isora was a good, loyal, and loving wife. He was blind to this and his fortune turned into misfortune, where Isora’s vengeful ghost pursues Shotaro and his prostitute lover, Sode and kills them both.
“A Doll’s House” is a play written by Henrik Ibsen. It is one of his most recognized works and is remembered for the ending scene of the door slamming. The story of the play consists of elements similar to “Hedda Gabler” such as blackmail, manipulation, and woman’s rights. The play centers around Nora and Torvald, a happily married couple, that bears a secret in which Torvald is unaware of. The secret is that Nora has taken out a loan to fund Torvald’s vacation, which the doctor recommended, under her dead father’s name. As the play unfolds, Torvald has received a job and plans to fire Krogstad for his fallacious dealings and dishonest nature. However, Krogstad is man that approved of Nora’s loan thus knows about her fraudulent request. He then uses this information to threaten Nora with blackmail if her husband, Torvald, fires him. As the play unfolds, Torvald exclaims how he wishes Nora was in danger so that he may save her. Nora then uses this opportunity to tell Torvald of Krogstad’s scheme only to have Torvald banish her from seeing her children due to moral corruption. However, Krogstad has a change of heart and decides not to blackmail the family. Hence, we are left with a cowardly, and hypocritical husband and a woman who realizes she was nothing more than a doll in his eyes. She states she is leaving due to her marriage being superficial, and slams the door behind her.
The story seems to center on elements of power between multiple parties and how it can be used to manipulate others. This is most notably shown through Krogstad’s scheme and Mrs. Christina’s, Nora’s long time friend, power over Krogstad since they were lovers. This is comparable to “Hedda Gabler” in which Judge Brak threatens Hedda with a scandal, and how Hedda manipulates the characters throughout the story. Yet despite the theme of power, we notice several focuses on women throughout the play which are comparable to “Hedda Gabler.” Firstly, Nora is introduced as a woman whose responsibilities revolve around household duties such as chores and caring for her children. She is shown to be in a marriage that consistently displays her husband as being the dominant member through his financial influence, condescending treatment and verbal abuse. This is most apparent when Torvald bans Nora from eating macaroons, restricts her finances to an allowance, and calls her by several names. Yet despite this, Nora seems to abide by it rather than challenge it, like Hedda Gabler. Although the play was set in the late 19th century, it can be seen that woman’s roles at the time did not change much compared to the time of writing of “Hedda Gabler.” They were largely expected to be within the household and take care of household duties. This is exemplified by Nora’s lifestyle and the treatment she gets from her husband. However, we see a change of heart in Nora towards the end of the play. When her husband responds hostilely to Nora’s self-sacrifice, Nora realizes she was in an unfulfilling marriage and decides to leave him. The ending scene is the most dramatic scene within the play. The slamming of the door signifies the idea of individuality, control, and choice for women at the time. For one, Nora’s decision to leave her husband can be seen as her first act of defiance and a daring decision to take control of her life. She has decided to relinquish her dependency on Torvald and ultimately live a life outside of his domain and household. Additionally, Nora decision communicates the idea of choice, an idea that was rare among women at the time. One can say that Nora could’ve possibly stayed since she has abided by her husband for a long time, however, Nora decision to leave empowers her character since it is contradictory to her character’s behavior yet self-discovered. This, I believe, attributes to the dramatic impact of the slamming door.
A previous post we touched upon Victorian women, however, through Hedda Gabler there is much more to said about Victorian women. Firstly, the entire play is set within the confines of the drawing room in which the play unfolds through a succession of characters. This choice of a singular setting is deliberately done by Ibsen to represent the core of Gabler’s problem: she is limited and caged within a Victorian society. Therefore, the drawing room serves as the focal point of the play in representing an oppressive society. Apart from the setting, the character Hedda Gabler seems to be a contradiction, or rather, an anomaly in the play. Gabler, being raised by General Gabler, is shown to have an independent, strong-willed, and untamable personality. Her love for pistols outwardly expresses how unconventional a woman she is to her friends and to Ibsen’s audience. She also possesses a talent for bending people to her will. This is shown when Lovborg inquires about how he can not resist telling her his secrets and on how the characters seem to revolve around her. Surely, these characteristics are unlike the behavior a Victorian woman should possess. After all, Victorian women were expected to be pure of character, virginity, and display.
Like many women of Gabler’s time, women in the Victorian Era were limited to household duties. They were expected to have an essence of innocence so they may be suitable for marriage. Their power in wealth was essentially nonexistent since all property ultimately belonged to the male of the household. After marriage, they were limited in options economically and intellectually. Victorian standards deemed that a women’s role strictly remained in maintaining the house and assisting their husbands. Hence, this passive lifestyle frustrates Gabler and thus she emanates her desire by stating ” once in her life to have power to mold a human destiny.” Having no means to exert her passion for life, she turns to manipulating the people around her since society deems her for little purpose. Gabler accomplishes this by getting Lovborg back on to alcohol and convincing him to commit suicide. She also burns his manuscript and allows Tesman to cover for her. Despite her efforts, Gabler’s control over herself comes to an end when Judge Brak threatens her with a scandal. This pushes Gabler to relinquish all desire for her life since being caged once again is attributable to death. This destructive and dark path is only the result of a woman who longs to live the life she desires in a Victorian society.
However, many critics view Gabler as either a tragic heroine or a coward. Her desperate yet narcissistic attempts to fulfill her desires isn’t the product of her weakness but rather a product of social repression. Hence, her vicarious solution holds a sympathetic tone of a woman born ahead of her time. On the other hand, we see Mrs. Elvsted, who shares a similar boredom for life, pursuing her desires in a constructive manner. She actively plays a role in Lovborg’s life and the reconstruction of of his manuscript. Furthermore, in the last seen Mrs Elvsted is shown to deteriorate Hedda’s influence on Tesman in her own constructive way. It seems that Mrs. Elvsted has found a way to subvert authority and pursue her desires freely. Therefore, when juxtaposing Mrs. Elvsted with Gabler, readers deem Gabler a coward. A coward since Gabler refuses to break social standards, in which Gabler is aware of, and for ultimately choosing to live and die in the confines of the drawing room. Regardless, it is undeniable that the typical Victorian women lived in a patriarchal society where social and economic mobility were nonexistent. Their lives were strictly defined as a woman who marries in order to take care of household chores. Hence, they did not share the same freedom as men when it came to life decisions.
After watching the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”, I saw that geishas evolved from women placed in lower-class society. Chiyo was a daughter of a fisherman in a small village and after the death of their mother, Chiyo and her sister were sold to people of other houses; Chiyo’s sister was sold to a brothel and Chiyo was sold to an “okiya”- a house for geisha in Gion, which is a district of Kyoto, Japan. It was set to be a social standard for women living in poverty to be sold to okiyas by their parents to become a geisha- “We do not become Geisha to pursue our own destinies. We become Geisha because we have no other choice.” It saddens me that women were oppressed in the sense that they had no power or freedom of choice to become what they wanted, but instead were forced to live the life of a geisha. Other social standards imposed on the geishas included paying off debts that were bound to geishas since the start of serving the mistress of their appointed okiya and to give the “look” to attract a man’s attention- based on the scene where Chiyo is being transformed into a geisha and Mameha is teaching her the ways of a geisha.
A geisha’s place in society is shown through a kimono, which defined the geisha’s status and class. The kimono is worn daily by geishas and there were different styles worn for different occasions such as tea ceremonies, parties, funerals, and other events. In relevance to my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there was a wide variety of kimonos being displayed and a lot of the designs on them were based around cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums. There were some that were plain looking (most likely worn by ordinary women) and the flashy fashionable kimonos that were most likely worn by women of upper-class society. There was also a six-panel folding screen that depicted dancers of the Edo period which reminded me of the scene of Chiyo’s dance performance. It embodies the elegance and reserved movements of Japanese dance and it also points to the importance of fans in the overall scheme of a performance and demonstrates how the flowing sleeves of a costume were used to accent the fluid lines created by dancers.
There’s a quote from the book and I’m not sure if it was said in the film that says “I certainly can’t afford to have a powerful man upset with me. . . if a powerful man makes up his mind to destroy me, well, he’ll do it!” This is an implication that women didn’t have as much power as men did in Japanese society. They were basically inclined to please these powerful men because they were dependent upon the wealthy, upper-class men of Japanese society.
Chiyo was affiliated with upper-class men such as Dr. Crab, The Chairman, Nobu (chairman’s best friend), and The Baron. In the book, Dr. Crab considered himself something of an aristocrat. Geishas typically supply money for their assigned okiyas, pay back the people that financed them once they start working as a geisha, and will work for men that offer the highest bid. Chiyo’s encounter with The Chairman changes her fortune drastically and this goes to show how gieshas/women were intermediaries of class, wealth, and fortune.
A jorou-ya is a brothel which is a place of prostitution. Prostitutes wore kimono and hair ornaments similar to geisha, but their obi were tied in the front . . . a mark of a prostitute; an obi is a ribbon- like sash. Geishas underwent a ceremony called mizuage: sexual initiation of an apprentice geisha, i.e., her virginity. The mizuage practice became illegal in 1959. These are all signs/symbols of prostitution and I’m sure many people perceive geishas as prostitutes, so the question I propose is: are geisha prostitutes?
A geisha is a traditional Japanese artist- entertainer. The cast of the central characters in “Memoirs of a Geisha” were played by Chinese actors and this sparked controversy. It caused a stir in the Chinese Internet community where some users were unhappy due to rising natiionalist sentiment, especially because some mistook geisha for prostitutes. A profession similar to that of a Geisha did exist in imperial China. These women were refined in art, literature, history and social manners. They lived in brothels but did not make a living by selling their bodies. Their job was to entertain male guests with their talents in music, chess, calligraphy, painting etc., a practice known in Chinese as “selling one’s talents instead of one’s body” (賣藝不賣身). However, though highly refined and famous (involved in innumerable Chinese poems, literature, legends and folklore), they did not enjoy the status accorded to geisha in Japan. Some people unfamiliar with this cultural difference misunderstood geisha in a negative way. Those people misunderstood geisha in a negative way, but they didn’t grasp the artistic and cultural aspect of the Geisha in Japanese society.
In the blog by Joi Ito has a torn moral stance on the subject and question: Are Geisha Prostitutes? He believes geisha represent the polygamist past of Japan more than they represent prostitutes. I agree with him in that the geisha is a symbol of the polygamist past of Japan, but I firmly believe prostitution stemmed from the geisha and grew from it. Polygamy doesn’t help reduce the misconception of a geisha. Ito says the geisha have gone through a variety of changes in their roles in the past and are now totally different from where they started out. Back then, poor families would sell their women to the okiya and they would be taken care of by powerful men. This is much so the same scenario for Chiyo in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Nowadays, the blogger says people don’t “sell” their children so most geisha become geisha to learn the tradition and to meet interesting people. Most people who go to tea houses cannot afford to be a full sponsor of a geisha and corporate expense accounts pay for most of the drinks. People still sponsor geisha but it only usually works when both are truly in love and in many cases, this turns into a true marriage. Now geishas can marry for love, but in the past geishas were living for the money and did whatever it took to survive in Japanese society of that time. Joi Ito says “there are a lot of bars and even tea houses that are about prostitution. In fact there is even a service in Gion that provides prostitutes who double as geisha to tea houses for the foreigners who come to Kyoto thinking that geisha are prostitutes and insist on having sex. On the other hand, the bars that have evolved from the traditional tea houses and the old tea houses in Kyoto are still fairly legitimate places for people to meet future wives and for women to look for future husbands outside of the arranged marriage system.” I believe it is okay to think geishas were prostitutes in the past, but nowadays it is different and that a geisha doesn’t necessarily symbolize a prostitute. You cannot blame people for their misconceptions of a geisha because they were a lot of bars and tea houses that offer prostitutes. Ito claims that it isn’t fair that women are not treated equally in Japan and the “tradition” is not supportive of women’s rights. I agree with him; the tradition of the geisha is equivalent to a single pathway. I believe women in current-day Japan have more freedom in becoming what they dream of as opposed to the oppressed past, but I could be wrong. On the bright side, Ito also mentions that the tradition supports a great deal of art and culture. Indeed, I got to enjoy the artistic and cultural aspects of a Geisha within Japanese society through the lens of Chiyo (also known as Sayuri) in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
Hedda Gabler is a play written by Henrik Ibsen during 19th century Norway. This time period is known as the Victorian era which is largely characterized for its peace, prosperity and social reform. We find elements of the Victorian Era throughout Ibsen’s play in various forms ranging from human rights to economic peculiarities. Firstly, through plot development, it is apparent that Judge Brak and Hedda Gabler are the only members that belong to the aristocrat social class while the other members are upstarts that have gained their membership through other means. Notably, we witness Berta commenting “I should never have dreamt in those days that she and Master George would make a match of it.” In other words, Berta is surprised that two individuals from different social classes have married in such unlikely circumstances. Furthermore, we find Miss Tesman trying to fit within her new found status by purchasing a hat. This attempt utterly fails as Hedda mistakes it for a maids garment. Miss Tesman’s unfamiliarity and discomfort with her position only serves to emphasize the ascendancy of the middle class. Hence, we find the theme new money versus old money where previous upper class members find their world dissipating by the membership of the middle class.
Compared to the previous century, gender roles in society remained largely unchanged. There was still a large belief for a patriarchal system within households and the government. A monarch was still in place, only to be impeached in the late 19th century, with the aristocrats controlling economic and political elements throughout the country. Although the Victorian Era was a time of large reform, women’s roles were restricted to household duties and intermediaries of wealth through marriage. In Hedda Gabler, we find Hedda struggling against Victorian standards by her burning passion to find purpose for her life only to fail since society did not teach, and provide her with the necessary resources to do so. Additionally, Tesman’s membership to high society can be mainly attributed to Hedda accepting his hand in marriage thus signifying women’s roles as contracts of wealth. Furthermore, Hedda’s dilemma can also be attributed to the lack of economic mobility women faced. Her material wealth disappeared when she married Tesman thus showing that women had no control over property at the time. On another note, men’s roles in Victorian society was largely defined around the material success they achieved outside of the house. We notice throughout the play that Tesman is ecstatic about his career opportunity but rather jealous of Lovborg. This is shown when Tesman seems to take a subtle joy in the destruction of Lovborg’s “child.” After all, Lovborg achieved recognition by publishing a highly recognized yet controversial book while Tesman safely continues on with his research. Therefore, this jealous is mainly attributed to how society deemed men worthy and the characteristics men attributed themselves to when it came to self-worth.
In conclusion, the Victorian Era was a time where economic changes vastly swept over the country. We see in Hedda Gabler that the middle class are now flooding what use to be an exclusionary society. Despite the economic changes, male and female roles were largely unchanged but strictly defined. For one, males were responsible for bringing in and controlling wealth ,and pursuing worthy jobs. The female role was mainly within the household with little to no opportunity for mobility in society. They were largely expected to take care of all household duties and retain an essence of purity, hence the impact of a sexual scandal. In summation, the play revolves around characters strictly adhering to Victorian social standards with only a few representing the oppressive and restrictive nature the standards carry.
In reading “An Old Woman’s Hermitage” From Life of a Sensuous Woman, Saikaku starts off saying “A beautiful woman, many ages have agreed, is an ax that cuts down a man’s life. . .how foolish are the men who die young of overindulgence in the way of sensuous love.” He places women as intermediaries of superstition, in which case he believes beautiful women are the culprits to the deaths of young men due to overdose of sensuous love. I disagree and I believe that men have just as much control as women in maintaining a proper balance when it comes to sensuous love. In “Mistress of a Domain Lord”, I discovered the same thing where Saikaku blames the woman for wearing out the lord and making him physically weak; “I was amazed to discover that the councilors thought it was my fault. They said I was a woman from the capital who liked fancy sex and had worn out their lord.” The councilors agreed to the superstition and made the decision to send her back to her parents. There is a social injustice in that all the councilors were men and their thoughts were probably similar to Saikaku’s assertion that women are the leaders of sensuous love, thus men’s bodies are weakened and/or die. In the selection “Five Hundred Disciples of the Buddha- I’d Known Them All”, Saikaku names a similar example where the woman in the story recalls one of her disciples: “He just folded up. He grew weaker and weaker, like a flame in a lantern, and then he was gone. He was only twenty-four.” She was associated with five hundred disciples- her encounter with him surely could not be the sole reason for him passing away.
After reading “A Stylish Woman Who Brought Disaster”, I pinpointed a section where the wife of the domain lord shows resentment towards the lord’s mistress. She says “The lord treats me now as if I hardly existed. He’s had his beautiful mistress from the domain brought all the way here to Edo, and he doesn’t think about anyone but her day and night . . . But I did have this doll made to look like her. At least I can cause pain to it.” The wife is envious of the attention the mistress gets from the lord and she acts as an intermediary of superstition, in believing she’s causing pain to the mistress through the doll that she claims looks like her. Indeed, the lord is worried and also believes in this superstition saying “I have no doubt at all that very soon my mistress won’t be safe from my wife’s avenging soul. Her life is in danger here . . . have her return to the domain.”
In the piece “A Monk’s Wife in Worldly Temple”, a woman dressed up as a temple page- sexual partners for the monks, encounters the head priest who falls in love with her. She “agreed to become his temporary wife for three years in exchange for twenty-five pounds of silver. I became what people call an “oven god”, which is a woman living and cooking in a temple; it was a custom that was widespread but officially forbidden.” The woman temple page disguised as a boy in this story acts as an intermediary of class, and wealth. She increased her social standing by living with the head priest and gains access to the monk’s wealth of twenty-five pounds of silver and in exchange she just cooks. In a similar example the woman in “Five Hundred Disciples of the Buddha- I’d Known Them All” acts as an intermediary of wealth and fortune by sleeping with men. She recalls the painful years of being forced to work getting money from men. “women who sold themselves, I was sure, were the most fearful of all women, and I began to grow frightened of myself. With this single body of mine I’d slept with more than ten thousand men.”
Japanese women during the Edo period have played a submissive yet power role within society as intermediaries of class, wealth, fortune, and superstition.
In reading Saikaku’s stories I’ve come to realize his selection of stories in “Life of a Sensuous Woman” contains symbolism for love, lust, and temptation. In “An Old Woman’s Hermitage”, the hermit begins to tell her story to these two young men and recalls “all the loves in her own life.” When she saw women and men lying together, she’d feel excited, and when she heard them in the dark, her heart would pound. She says “Naturally I began to want to make love myself.” And she began to feel love was the most important thing in her life from thereon. She claims that during her days “young women know a lot more about lovemaking.” She concludes saying “I just followed my desires wherever they went– and I ruined myself.” In the “Mistress of a Domain Lord”, there’s a quote that says “women, you know, are very basic creatures. They just can’t forget about physical love. . . they’ll feel a rush and go dizzy with desire. . . They want to make love with a flesh- and- blood man all the more.” In the reading “A Monk’s Wife in a Worldly Temple”, there is an old woman who has eavesdropped on the priest and the temple page “saying little things to each other in bed. . . even at my age I just can’t forget sex.” Even at an extremely old age, the old lady has sex resided in her memory and engraved in her head. In the selected piece called “A Teacher of Calligraphy and Manners”, the teacher of calligraphy loved a man which was one of her customers very much. “Whenever I met him I forgot I was performing and opened my heart completely to him. I trusted him and told him everything. During one of the man’s visits, I was unable to continue writing. I sat there holding my brush and thinking only about him.” She “made love with the man day and night. When he lost his desire, she would strengthen him with food and continued. Gradually, he ran dry and grew weak. In the “Five Hundred Disciples of the Buddha- I’d Known Them All” story, the woman in the story recalls a lot of the deceased disciples she’s been with. One of them she shared a pillow with when she was younger, another they exchanged deep vows and the guy even tattooed her name on his wrist, in another she worked for him as a parlor maid and he loved her in so many ways that even after all those years she couldn’t forget him. There was another man where she lived with him and they loved each other dearly and when she was working in Edo, there was a man she met with secretly six nights a month. There was also a priest where by the time she met him they were “used to every kind of sex” and they went at it day and night. Each story of Saikaku’s have elements of symbolism for love, lust, and temptation.
Based on Saikaku’s stories, it would be safe to assume a woman’s place in society is dependent upon the location of the woman. The beautiful and cultured women resided in Kyoto. In the old hermit’s story, the hermit didn’t come from a low-class family; her mother was commoner, but her father was from the middle-ranking aristocratic class. Her life went downhill, but she “happened to be born with a beautiful face, so she went to Kyoto to serve a court lady of the highest rank, and learned most of the elegant, refined ways of aristocrats.” “Mistress of a Domain Lord” says the retainers of the domain lord didn’t bother to look for women among the commoners in Edo. Those women were “ordinary” women raised in the eastern provinces. They wanted to look in Kyoto where they heard attractive women were at. “Kyoto women have a beautiful way of speaking.” Some of the social standards imposed on women mentioned in the story revolves around a certain way a woman should move and how she should wear her clothes-“She should move and wear her clothes gracefully, and her figure should show dignity and refinement. She was to have a gentle personality, be skilled at all the arts that women learn, and know something about everything.” In a similar example in the story of the teacher of calligraphy, ordinary women in Kyoto had the privilege to learn calligraphy and sell their skills transcribing letters. Under the requirements of serving an aristocrat, these women “make a decent living” in society and serve as role models for young girls to follow the footsteps of women calligraphy teachers and study under them.
The author places an idealistic social standard that women placed/born into poverty should sell their bodies and society would accept that and be okay with it. The idea that Japanese women can sell their bodies for money symbolizes prostitution. In the same way the woman who slept with more than ten thousand men in the story of the five hundred disciples, it symbolizes prostitution. Saikaku provides us readers a side story where the merchant tricks poor innocent women into selling their bodies for just a little bit of money:
“The merchant pays a jester with a shaved head to pretend to be a wealthy visitor from the western provinces and has him ask women from all over Kyoto to come interview to be his mistress. The merchant attends the interview, and if a woman catches his eye, he asks her to stay and secretly negotiates with the owner of the house for a secluded room. Then he asks the woman to sleep with him for just that one time. The surprised woman is terribly angry and disappointed, but when she tries to leave, he says all sorts of things to persuade her. Finally he mentions money, and since the woman has paid so much for the interview, she gives in. For selling herself, she gets two small gold pieces. There’s nothing else she can do. But women who aren’t from poor families don’t do that.”
In the “Mistress of a Domain Lord”, the author mentions that “The love a lord feels for a page is deeper than anything he feels for a woman. His wife is definitely in second place. In my opinion, this is because a lord’s wife isn’t allowed to show her jealousy the way commoner women do.” Society sets a social standard for commoner women to display jealousy whenever they please, whereas women of the upper-class are restricted from showing their bitter, envious feelings. Another examples of this is within the story called “A Stylish Woman Who Brought Disaster”, where the wife of the lord feels like she is also placed in second place. She feels the lord treats her as if she hardly existed and that the mistress is on the lord’s mind day and night. This is connected to the idea that the wife’s lord isn’t allowed to express her jealous feelings the same way commoner women of her times can.
Women who lived during the Edo time period in Japan have had social standards imposed on them by society, thus defining their place in society, and also holding a symbolic meaning within Japanese society.
Moliere’s “Tartuffe” mainly gives the impression of a satirical play on religious hypocrisy. However, throughout the plot, it is apparent that “Tartuffe” also functions as a social commentary on women and the patriarchal hierarchy that deems them necessary for little purpose. This is most apparent on his use of several female characters, that possess a great capacity for reason, cleverness, and rationality, to critique the social structure that oppose them so unfairly and, through them, demonstrate that females are capable of much more. After all, it is the female characters that utilizes logic and cunning to bring about Tartuffe’s unmasking and succeed where the men failed to do. Hence, it is through the females characters insistency that guides the family through Orgon’s foolish decisions and Tartuffe’s scheme.
Firstly,Mariane is portrayed as an obedient and submissive female who refrains from outwardly expressing her opinion. In this respect, Mariane is the most conventional character of her time. She reflects what society finds acceptable in women and displays what function women played within a hierarchical system. This is most apparent within several scenes between her and Orgon. The scene where Mariane expresses her disdain towards her father’s plan only to have it utterly dismissed by Orgon shows the dilemma most women at the time faced. Their voices were largely unheard even though it is rational and morally right. Furthermore, Orgon states “to graft Tartuffe into my family. So he must be your husband” portrays women as intermediaries of wealth, power and ownership. Lastly, Mariane further supports the conventional ideal women by her soft spoken nature and her decision to delegate the responsibility of vocalizing her direct disdain towards her father’s plan to Dorinne. In summation, Mariane portrays the conventional women who is oppressed under a patriarchal system. They were expected to hold blind obedience towards men even though men’s decisions can lead to an unfavorable outcome.
Dorine and Elmire are perhaps the stars of “Tartuffe.” They are largely outspoken characters that consistently defy conventional standards with tremendous vigor and enthusiasm. Dorine, the maid of the family, outwardly expresses her opinion despite her role as a maid. She openly expresses that Tartuffe is a fraud defiantly towards Orgon with reason and understanding in which Orgon seems to lack. Dorine’s absolute disregard for her position combined with her rational ability to see through Tartuffe’s scheme communicates Moliere’s argument that women should pay no heed to their position within the hierarchy since they are capable of using logical reasoning and making rational decisions, just as much or even more so than men. In addition, Elmire is shown to display a great degree of intelligence through her subversion of authority and using social conventions to convince her husband of Tartuffe’s scheme. Most notably, Elmire uses cunning to expose Tartuffe by advancing on Tartuffe with Orgon hidden. This ultimately leads to Tartuffe’s demise, as well as, Orgon dismissing his plans for his daughter. In this scene. Elmire displays a great degree of intelligence in many regards. Firstly, despite Elmire’s social status, she uses her position to convince Orgon to follow through with her plan. Furthermore, she displays a great understanding of men and expertly uses persuasive language to expose Tartuffe within her grand scheme. Once again, Moliere demonstrates that women are capable beings who deserve more than what the patriarchal hierarchy deems them.
In conclusion, women within the 17th century were largely oppressed due to the nature of society. As such, women’s roles were limited to function as a bond or contract between wealth and power. Furthermore, due to society largely ignoring women, they were forced to use indirect tactics to influence social decisions. Despite this, Moliere recognizes this as evidence for women’s rights and uses the play to shun the oppressive system women lived under.