Feminism in Ichiyo

In the story “The Thirteenth Night” by  Ichiyo Higuchi, Oseki is so unhappy with her upper-class husband, Harada, and is so happy to encounter her childhood friend Roku, who she always thought she would marry. Oseki and Roku both grew up in humble circumstances, and Oseki thought she would spend her life working behind the counter of Oseki’s family store. She was happy with that. But then Harada saw her and wanted her for his wife, but he mistreats her because of her lower-class origins. When Oseki and Roku meet in the rickshaw, Oseki has risen in social class, and Roku has fallen in social class, abandoning his wife and child. They are very different in their social class, but similar in their desire to abandon their families. They still have feelings for each other. Marxist theory might say that capitalism takes advantage of all workers, whether a rickshaw driver such as Roku or a wife like Oseki. They will never move beyond their humble class and they will never stop being exploited.

Oseki might represent Higuchi Ichiyo in some ways. The author grew up in the late 19th century. She was born to parents who were in a peasant community, but her father had managed to procure samurai status. He only had this status for a short time, though, before it was abolished. Higuchi attended a private school with students mostly from the upper classes and felt inferior. She kept diaries all about all aspects of her life, including the increasing poverty of her family as the years went on. In later years, she moved with her mother and sister to a neighborhood near Tokyo’s red-light district. She would have been very aware of the limited power of women, and of the need to use traditional feminine wiles to get her way—go home and make her husband happy, as her father told her, and be able to keep her son. Her husband chose her for her beauty, and she should play that up. Roku, too, is impressed by her beauty.

1 thought on “Feminism in Ichiyo

  1. Hi,
    I really like how you clearly analyze the story and you have a very special view when saying that Oseki can represent the author. You gave me a new perspective and realized the author’s situation is like Okesi

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