Memoirs of a Geisha

939 words | 4 page(s)

Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha is a novel that is well rooted in historical context and time periods of lavishness, conflict, and poverty. It stands to reason that one of the central themes within the novel would be that of conflict with a character’s personal history. Just as a civilization grows and develops through conflicts, the characters in the novel use the difficult time periods of their past in order to overcome obstacles that are relevant in the present and the future. It is within these conflicts that the characters and the novel become a story of strength and persistence. In the novel, Memorirs of a Geisha, it is through the conflicts that the past has created for her that causes Sayuri is able to remain strong through her early years of poverty, later years as a Geisha, through the events of World War II, and her final days with the Chairman.

Born in the poverty stricken fishing village of Yoroido, Sayuri was born under the name of Chiyo Sakamoto . Her early years were that of little means. Chiyo thought of her childhood home and “decided that our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way” (Golden 3). She recalled that her father looked very old because his face tucked away the worries of poverty. The conditions of the home were so poor that Chiyo fantasized about being adopted by Mr. Tanaka. Eventually, what she thought she wanted happened and she and her sister were sent away to what they expected to be a better life. No matter what would become of them at this point, the memories of the anguish of the years spent in poverty and the feeling of being freed from that state would remain with Chiyo throughout the rest of her life.

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Once Chiyo was in training to become a Geisha, her name was changed to Sayuri in an effort to wipe away her past and begin anew in her new world as a Geisha. However, it was her mother’s eyes that brought her the attention as a Geisha and also served as a reminder to where she had came from. The early years of hardships prepared Chiyo for her life in training as Sayuri. Eventually, Sayuri adapted to the life as a Geisha and managed to somewhat forget her life as a child. The attention that she received helped her to embrace her life and much of that attention came from the Chairman. Sayuri fell immediately in love with the Chairman as upon her first encounter with him she thought that “he was like a song I’d heard once in fragments but had been singing in my mind ever since” (Golden 308). Her past had slipped away and her new life had truly began.

However, as is usually the case, the lessons learned in one’s past becomes the anchor for one’s strength during trials. After the depression and the effects of World War II finally reached the sanctity of the Geisha, the time of poverty and hardship returned for Sayuri. She stood there realizing that “it was as though the sun had vanished, possibly for good, and I was now condemned to stand wet and naked in the icy air” (Golden 529). The fears of her childhood home leaning too far against the ocean’s sneezes returned and Sayuri was uncertain how she would survive. At one moment, she recalled that “every tear that slid down my cheek I cried for a different reason” (540). However, just as she had made it through her childhood, Sayuri would prevail through this trial.

The war and poverty took a severe toll on Sayuri and the entire way of life that she had engulfed herself in. By the time that the war ended, she found herself lost in a world that appeared foreign to her. This was a life of little means and less hope. At a moment of realization, Sayuri found her strength in her past:

Because I had lived through adversity once before, what I learned about myself was a reminder of something I’d once known but nearly forgotten-namely, that beneath the elegant clothing, and the accomplished dancing and the clever conversation, my life had no complexity at all, but was as simple as a stone falling to the ground. (Golden 548)

This is the moment that Sayuri truly connected her present to her past and recognized how they both connected to her pursuit of happiness in her future. With the same determination that she once showed through wishing to be adopted, Sayuri put her strength into gaining the love of the Chairman. As the strength within her grew, so did the love that the Chairman had for Sayuri.. Eventually, she and he had a life together that was not based on the past but rather was built upon it. All of the past led them to where they were, but Sayuri noted that “life softened into something much more pleasant” (Golden 665).

The escape from the past that is the key characterization of Sayuri throughout the novel maintains a steady forward motion of the action. The need to pull from the past gives a more historical context to the story. The novel was written as a biography for the history of the Geisha and the lifestyle that surrounded the culture. The world of the Geisha was constantly falling and rising to the top again. This is symbolized through the conflicts that Sayuri battled and drew from during her life.

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