Memoirs of a Geisha

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Memoirs of a Geisha Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Arthur Golden
Arthur Golden grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then attended Harvard College, where he received a B.A. in art history with a specialization in Japanese art. In 1980, he earned an M.A. in Japanese history from Columbia University. After a summer at Peking University in Beijing, China, he began working in Tokyo. While there, he met a man whose mother was a retired geisha, prompting his interest in the subject. After returning to the United States in the mid-1980s, Golden began writing his first novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, which took him six years to complete. A runaway success, the novel was on the New York Times’ bestseller list for over two years, sold more than four million copies, and was translated into thirty-two languages. Golden currently lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Get the entire Memoirs of a Geisha LitChart as a printable PDF.
Memoirs of a geisha.pdf.medium
Historical Context of Memoirs of a Geisha
While the novel makes infrequent mention of world historical events, the majority of the plot occurs from the beginning of the Great Depression in Japan to the end of World War Two. During the 1930s, a global economic depression affected almost every developed country in the world, including Japan. Sayuri, however, does not experience the effects of the Depression, since she works as a prominent geisha serving the wealthy elites of Japanese society. Sayuri also makes passing mention of Japan’s militaristic expansion into neighboring countries. In 1931, Japan invaded and annexed Manchuria, a region in northeast China. Despite local resistance against the Japanese occupation, Japan held onto Manchuria until the end of World War Two. During World War Two, the Japanese government placed harsh restrictions on its civilians, rationing food and closing down all the geisha districts in Japan. Near the end of the novel, Sayuri briefly references Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945 and the American occupation of the country that lasted until the early 1950s.
Other Books Related to Memoirs of a Geisha
Written as if it were an actual memoir, Memoirs of a Geisha draws mostly from a nonfiction, autobiographical tradition. Golden has acknowledged that while writing the novel, he did extensive research and delved deeply into the history of geisha culture. Specifically, Golden draws from Liza Dalby’s memoir Geisha, which recounts the author’s experiences as the only American woman ever to become a geisha. Since Golden’s novel masquerades as a true memoir, it also belongs to the relatively recent literary tradition of novels written in the guise of memoirs or autobiographies. One of the earliest and most prominent examples of this form is Gertrude Stein’s 1933 book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. The success of Golden’s novel also motivated the former geisha Mineko Iwesawa – whom Golden interviewed as a source for his novel – to write her own autobiography, Geisha: A Life, which refutes Golden’s sexualized portrayal of geisha culture.
Key Facts about Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Full Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • When Written: 1991-1997
  • Where Written: Boston, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1997
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Fiction
  • Genre: Historical Novel, Fictional Memoir, Bildungsroman
  • Setting: Yoroido, Kyoto, and New York City; early to late twentieth century
  • Climax: When Sayuri betrays Nobu in the old theater.
  • Antagonist: Hatsumomo
  • Point of View: First-person
Extra Credit for Memoirs of a Geisha

Code of Silence: While doing research for his book, Golden interviewed Mineko Iwasaki, a former geisha who had worked in Kyoto during the 1960s. Due to the traditional code of silence geishas have about their clients, Iwasaki only agreed to let Golden interview her if he promised to keep her identity anonymous. In the book’s acknowledgments, however, Golden thanks her by name for her contribution. This caused Iwasaki to face a strong and threatening backlash. She sued Golden for a breach in contract, and the two settled out of court in 2003.

Movie Magic: The novel was made into a 2005 movie that won three Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design.