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The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu Critical Essay

Thesis Statement

The theme of multicultural is examined through the analysis of the Tale of Genji as well as the analysis of the theme through elaboration and analysis of four aspects from the tale. These aspects are the composition of the background, the physiological character, value and cultural aesthetic orientation.

Background composition

The Tale of Genji remains as the most famous and classical literature work in Japan. Most scholars in the world regard the work to be the first important psychological novel (Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). The tale was composed and completed between 1000 and 1008 in Japan, Heian-era (Puette, 1983).

However, the exact time of completion is still in doubt. The Tale was authored by Murasaki Shikibu who was from a minor noble family in the northern branch of Fujiwara clan (Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). Her naming was according to her father or brother position since she had been in the imperial court as a maid of honor (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006).

This portrays one of the culture of the society in context that allow children to adopt or be named after their parents, or siblings according to their position in leadership. Her psychological depiction in the Tale Murasaki illustrates the disputes that existed for generations in the clan, which exhibits the aristocracy in Heian-era in a life scene (Puette, 1983). This scene has 54 chapters of the Tale of Genji illustrated in a complicated work of over one million words (Puette, 1983).

The aristocracy in Heian-era was mainly caused by their belief in Buddhism that depicted another cultural aspect from the reading (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006) The people in Heian-era were bound to beliefs that led to instability in the clans due to the issues of pursuit for pure land (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006). This indicated that clan members in the context of Murasaki work in the Tale conservatively held beliefs of Buddhism that had various effects on them.

However, the original purpose of the Tale of Genji was to entertain the Queen and the concubines of the imperial court (Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). From this aspect, it is evident that the culture portrayed in Murasaki work was full of immorality.

The availability of the concubines in the imperial court further asserts the receptiveness of the culture to immorality. In addition, many girls who viewed Genji as handsome and gifted young man admired him, which made him exploit them.

In the tale, Genji adopted the Lady of Fujitsubo as a stepmother who afterwards became a woman who further portrayed the immorality in the tale (Puette, 1983). Genji realized that the Lady of Fujitsubo was becoming dull in love and feelings. The tale indicates that he saw a young beautiful woman entering his room without permission and he followed and seduced her, though she did not resist (Bloom, 2004).

This is an indication that everyone in the empire had accepted the immoral nature of the empire. During Genji’s visit to Kitayama in Kyalo rural hilly areas, he finds Murasaki a ten-year old girl whom he admires and eventually kidnaps her (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006). He took her to the palace as a complement to the Lady of Fujitsubo (Bloom, 2004). This further emphasizes on the immorality nature of the culture and the use of women as tools for relation exploitation.

Further, culture is depicted through various practices and beliefs. After Akashi Lady gave Genji a son, Genji proceeded for a pilgrimage to Sumiyoshi Shrine where he offered several sacrifices to give thanks to deity for the protection during the storm of Surma (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006). The offering of practices to the deity by Genji who was a son of the emperor indicates that though the society in the tale was immoral, they had a certain level of respect to the deities whom they offered certain types of worship.

In addition, it is evident that the existence of the Sumiyoshi shrine, a holy place, that the community in the tale had reference to their deities. In addition, from the talem, the culture portrayed belief in a hereditary form of authority. After Genji father’s death, Genji took over as the emperor and after the death of Genji, his grandson took over as the emperor (Bloom, 2004).

Psychological Character

After Genji kidnapped Murasaki, she took her to school, which made Murasaki develop ideal standards that in the Tale depict her as a virtuous and tender woman (Bloom, 2004). Murasaki developed talents and acculturation due to the education that she received from Genji.

This portrayed a culture that had a well-established form of education and allowed everybody to access education. In addition, through the time presented in the tale, the presence of education in the tale indicates the modernization of the community in the context. Due to her ideal standard, Murasaki stood as upright and elegant. She had a personal esteem that made her respectful and cautious without deficiency.

She remained faithful, obedient to Genji through her response to commands and devoted all her efforts without complains. However, Murasaki becomes dissatisfied with the misconducts of Genji that makes her develop jealousy and indignation, thus living under torture and grief (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006).

Murasaki feared that one day the women who came into the palace and Genji met during his various visits to the community would replace her status in Genji’s mind. This once again portrays the immoral nature of the emperor and the community in the context of the tale as well. The receptiveness of the women to the exploitation from the emperor gives further evidence of an immoral culture.

To avoid this agony, Murasaki opted to become a Buddhist nun but Genji refused her request ((Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). According to Murasaki, the decision to become a nun portrays a culture that takes religion as a hiding place in the times of trouble. Further, this gives evidence of the beliefs in religion. Murasaki believed that the only solution to her agonies would only be found in religion and she commited herself to become a nun (Bloom, 2004).

The refusal of Murasaki decision to become a nun by Genji portrays a cultural aspect that treats women as subjects to their men. The men give orders on what to be or not to be done. The decision of the men according to Murasaki situation leaves the women in torture, stress and pain.

Nevertheless, the men portrayed in this culture do not mind the affairs of their women and their wellbeing. The situation of Genji released her to unbearable psychological stress. The feelings of insecurity, depression and doubts of all prevailing circumstances preoccupied her.

Value Orientation

Murasaki was influenced by the effect of mainstream culture aspect, as she was a Lady of feudal era. Her world as represented in the tale reveals a feudal ethical line of system (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006). Murasaki throughout the tale has been subject to various demands due her commitment and devotion that characterizes feudal ethics. The feudal ethics calls for absolute wife submission to her husband and inviolable marriage (Murasaki & Kencho, 2006).

Despite Genji misconducts, Murasaki still remains calm and endures the challenges of the marriage. This shows a male dominant and female restrictive ethnical standard culture (Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). Further, Murasaki’s love for Genji is on the basis of tolerance and devotion, where she holds to him despite many women around him. In addition, Murasaki without her own descendants is concerned about Akish Lady and Genji with patience.

This shows a culture where women have patience despite the circumstances surrounding them. Her call to the public through disinterested devotion and tolerance gets approval but it all contributed to her health expense. This indicates a culture that approves the calls from other people but gives less attention. In addition, it depicts an individualism culture that enhances individual benefits and suffering.

Aesthetic Orientation

Murasaki elaborates on various virtues like wisdom, tender, uprightness and gentleness. This illustrates Murasaki as a perfect woman in a feudal culture. In her education, she was trained to bear and satisfy all the Genji’s requirements without objection (Puette, 1983). She obeys the feudal ethics and doctrines and puts efforts to change Genji’s misconduct in a mild manner.

She treats all Genji’s wives with respect and not at any time, she fought for Genji’s favor (Jakucho, Keene, Masayuki & Murasaki, 2001). Her acts portray a culture that trained women to humble themselves and remain calm and obedient to their husbands without objection in all situations. In addition, it portrays the humiliation of the wives by their husbands due to the cultural doctrines in the feudal system.

Genji concubines owed Murasaki great respect due to her conduct all the time as an indication of a culture that embraced respect despite the circumstances (Bloom, 2004). This is a different case from other cultures where wives quarrel with their husbands’ concubines and their husbands as well. Further, it illustrates a culture that took advantage of women tenderness and gentleness to overtake their role in the family.

Similarly, the culture in the context of Tale view and value women according to their beauty. The kidnapping of Murasaki by Genji accounts on her beauty (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006).

The author praises Murasaki beauty several times in the context in form of Genji’s assertions, which is even evident on Yugiri encounter with Murasaki. The author asserts that Yugiri could not help to marvel at her beauty where he posed questions of whether such beauty existed in the world (Kencho & Murasaki, 2006). This indicates the perception and value of men on beauty that represents an aspect of men culture.


The Tale of the Genji depicts a feudal ethic system of culture. The culture shows that women are subject to men through exploitation of their ethical standards that the culture dictates for women. The men take advantage of the ideal standards of the women to engage in misconducts and disloyalty. They attach themselves to many concubines and seduce every beautiful woman they meet for relationship, which portrays the immorality of the culture in the context.


Bloom, H. (2004). Murasaki shikibu’s: The tale of Genji. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers.

Jakucho, S. Keene, D Masayuki, M, & Murasaki, S. (2001). The tale of Genji: Scenes from the World’s first novel. Japan: Miyata Masayuki and Kodansha International Ltd.

Kencho, S, & Murasaki, S. (2006). The tale of Genji. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing

Puette, W. (1983). The tale of Genji: A reader’s guide. Singapore: Tuttle Publishing.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu." September 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-tale-of-genji-by-murasaki-shikibu/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu'. 12 September.

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