Feminism in Ichiyo

In this short story, The Thirteenth Night, Oseki’s female character represents the status of women in the 19th century and the centuries before. Just like Ichiyo tried to get into a romantic relationship with her mentor, Nakarai Tōsui, hoping to get more connections to editors, the female character in the Thirteenth Night had to depend on what her father decided about her marriage, the financial power of her husband, and the need to protect her brother’s job.

Oseki’s experiences reflect what Ichiyo went through while growing up in Japan in the 19th century. Born and raised in a relatively poor family that was once relatively wealthy before things took a new turn, she experienced gender stereotypes from her mother. According to her mother, education was unnecessary for girls, and as a result, she made her stop attending school at the age of 11 despite her strong motivation to continue school. However, she did not have a say in this matter, just like Oseki does not have a say in ending the abusive marriage she is in.

Based on this story, women during this era had little power and also played limited roles in society, then. For instance, Oseki’s father reprimands her, mentioning that it is her responsibility, as a wife, to take care of her abusive husband. He states that her situation is not one of a kind and that many other women are leading unsatisfactory lives with their husbands, “your only responsibility is to Isamu—to make him happy and to manage his household” (Ichiyo 3). In her conversation with her father and mother, Oseki realizes that it is selfish for her to think of a divorce at a time when her own family belongs to a low social class, which also makes them more vulnerable to the potential demands of such a rich husband as Isamu.

In summary, to navigate the systems of power during this historical era, women had to compromise their feelings and thoughts for the sake of men and their children. Oseki, for instance, knows that divorcing Isamu would be the last time she would see her son, Taro, again. She vows to go back and watch over him like a ghost for his sake.

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