This paper is aimed at examining such works of Asian literature as the epic poem The Tale of Kieu by Du Nguyen and the play The love suicide at Amijima written by Monzaemon Chikamatsu. Both authors explore the experiences of women who cannot take full control of their own lives. In both cases, female protagonists express compassion or kindred feelings toward other women who suffer the misfortunes.
Much attention should be paid to the way in which Kieu and Koharu seek and show empathy for other female characters. This is one of the questions that should be analyzed. Furthermore, one should focus on the way in which two characters perceive the life in the world of prostitution.
These are the main aspects that should be discussed more closely. On the whole, this analysis can throw light on the worldviews of the protagonists and their attitude toward other people.
The theme of compassion plays an important role in Monzaemon Chikamatsu’s play. In particular, the readers learn that Koharu, who has to become prostitute, receives a letter from her lover’s wife, Kamiya Osan1. One can say that Koharu perceives Osan as her kindred spirit. Moreover, she does not want to ruin her family by letting Jihei commit suicide2. This is one of the details that should be taken into account.
The main character understands that this woman also has to cope with significant challenges. For instance, Osan is responsible for the education of children and the management of their business. More importantly, according to the existing cultural tradition, she is obliged to remain obedient to her husband. In addition to that, she accepts her status, and her only concern is the preservation of family.
She has no right to express discontent. To a great extent, Koharu expresses kindred feeling toward Osan since both of them can be viewed as powerless victims. This is one of the issues that should be considered by the readers of these texts.
Similar attitude is displayed by the main character of Du Nguyen’s epic poem. One can say that Kieu also searchers for a person who can understand her experiences. To a great extent, Kieu is attracted to the spirit of the poetess Dam Tien whose beauty and talent were famous. Nevertheless, Dam Tien died at a very young age. When speaking about Dam Tien, Kieu says, ‘in her, perhaps, I’ve found a kindred heart’3.
Kieu understands that her beauty and intelligence can also be lost irretrievably. One can argue that the main character searches for Dam Tien’s consolation. This is one of the main issues that can be singled out since it is important for understanding the actions of the protagonist who wants to understand the reasons why she is reduced to the status of a prostitute. This is the question that Kieu desperately wants to answer.
Apart from that, it is critical to discuss the way in which the protagonists in these literary works accept and cope with the life in the world of prostitution. It should be kept in mind that Kieu sells herself to a man named Scholar Ma in effort to support her family, in particular her father. So, the main character decided to sacrifice herself. This is one of the main points that can be made.
However, he turns out to be the owner of the brothel. Certainly, the main character abhors the very idea of being a prostitute, but she believes that her filial devotion to her family obliges her to accept this fate.
This is how the author describes her decision, “She put aside all woes of love and troth – a child first pays the debts of birth and care”4. Moreover, she accepts the fatalistic idea that suffering is an inseparable part of her fate. Moreover, she believes that to some degree, this fate is shared by every women.
This is why she says, “How sorrowful is women’s lot. We all partake of woe, our common lot”5. This statement helps Kieu reconcile with the idea that she lives in the world of prostitution in which she is perceived only as an object by males.
Yet, the thought that she can eventually “redeem” her father gratifies her6. So, the willingness to sacrifice one’s wellbeing for the sake of others is a part of Kieu’s identity. This is one of the main issues that should be taken into consideration.
One should also look at the way in which Monzaemon Chikamatsu explores this theme in his play. Koharu is perfectly aware of the fact that she cannot leave the brothel because she lacks money to redeem herself7.
Moreover, her prostitution can be partly explained by the economic necessity because she needs to support her mother. This motive is critical for explaining the actions of the protagonist. So, one can say that the actions of the protagonist may be driven by the same motive which is economic necessity.
Nevertheless, there are important distinctions that should be taken into account. Koharu does not want to accept this destiny. This is why she contemplates the thought of suicide8. In this way, she does not want to admit that she cannot take any control of her life.
Koharu does not want to reconcile herself with this form of existence because she cannot see any reason why she should be sentenced to be just the object of other people’s desires. This is one of the main distinctions that should be considered.
The differences in the behavior of these characters can be explained by other important factors. Kieu believes that her misfortunes can be imposed by some higher power.
In particular, she speaks about such a concept as karma which implies that a person’s suffering can be explained his/her misdeeds in the past life. In contrast, Koharu stresses that the idea that she has only one life and there is no reason for her to suffer. This is the main difference between these women.
On the whole, these literary works throw light on the experiences of women who are forced to occupy an underprivileged position in the society. Koharu and Kieu tend to express kindred feeling or empathy to other women who have to suffer the misfortunes that they do not deserve.
Both of them have to sell themselves into prostitution because they have to care about people who are dear to them. Yet, there are some differences that should not be disregarded. In particular, Kieu can reconcile herself with her fate, while Koharu does not accept the idea that she is doomed to the life in a brothel. This is the main argument that can be put forward.
Chikamatsu, Monzaemon. The love suicide at Amijima (Shinjū Ten no Amijima): A study of a Japanese domestic tragedy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953.
Nguyen, Du. The Tale of Kieu. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
1 Monzaemon Chikamatsu, The love suicide at Amijima (Shinjū Ten no Amijima): A study of a Japanese domestic tragedy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), 75.
2 Chikamatsu, The love suicide at Amijima, 93.
3 Du Nguyen, The Tale of Kieu. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 9
4 Nguyen, The Tale of Kieu, 33.
5 Nguyen, The Tale of Kieu, 7.
6 Nguyen, The Tale of Kieu, 33.
7 Chikamatsu, The love suicide at Amijima, 71.
8 Chikamatsu, The love suicide at Amijima, 71.