Memoirs of a Geisha

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Memoirs of a Geisha Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next afternoon Mameha summons Chiyo to her apartment. Mameha says that if Chiyo is going to be her younger sister, then she must do whatever Mameha says without question. Since Chiyo feels so much gratitude to Mameha for opening up the way to becoming a geisha, Chiyo agrees to Mameha’s conditions, promising not to disappoint her.
Chiyo’s gratitude to Mameha has some negative consequences—she agrees to do whatever Mameha commands her to do, thereby giving up her independence and autonomy. Chiyo’s sense of indebtedness will cause her to give up self-determination again during the climax of the novel.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
In the following days, Chiyo begins geisha training. Chiyo explains that the word “geisha” means “artist,” so her schooling consists of learning to sing, dance, and play a variety of instruments. Throughout the lessons, the teachers also correct the girls on their manners and posture. Geisha must learn how to maintain proper “comportment and behavior” around the men they entertain. Chiyo’s last lesson of the day is always the tea ceremony. During the tea ceremony, geisha serve tea in a very traditional manner, using specific cups and serving methods. After a long day of training, Chiyo finds the serenity of the tea ceremony as rejuvenating as a long night’s sleep.
Though the word “geisha” means “artist,” geisha are just as much the art itself as they are the artist. They must not only entertain men with their knowledge of music and dance, but also be themselves beautiful and graceful objects for the men to gaze upon with pleasure and delight. Chiyo’s appreciation of the tea ceremony shows how some ceremonies and traditions can be beneficial, providing a soothing regularity and a relaxing escapism.
Themes
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
At the beginning of her training, Chiyo and Pumpkin practice shamisen together at the okiya everyday, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. But one day Hatsumomo finds them together practicing. She tells Pumpkin never to say another word to Chiyo again, because she is now her rival in the house.
Hatsumomo enforces the culture of competition and rivalry present among geisha, thereby preventing a real affection and sisterhood from developing between the girls.
Themes
Growing Up Theme Icon
The next time Chiyo visits Mameha’s apartment, Mameha says Chiyo should strive for success, not popularity. Hatsumomo and Mameha are equally popular in Gion, but Mameha is more successful because she earned her independence. A geisha only earns her independence when the mistress of the okiya adopts her or if she earns enough money to assemble her own collection of kimono. Geisha kimono are very expensive, and geisha need many of them to wear throughout the year to keep the men interested.
The difference between popularity and success reveals how even Hatsumomo’s accomplishments are illusory. Though she might seem like one of the most successful geisha in Kyoto, this is merely a superficial accomplishment. True success only comes through independence – a lesson Chiyo will learn to appreciate over the course of the novel.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
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Mameha says the only way a geisha can make enough money to earn her independence is by having a wealthy danna. Chiyo thinks about how some lower-class geisha soil their reputations by making themselves available to men on a nightly basis. But it is appropriate for a well-respected man to offer to be a geisha’s danna. Danna pay a geisha’s expenses and give her lavish gifts over a substantial period of time in exchange for certain “privileges” with the geisha.
For the first time, it becomes clear that while some women use the geisha title to conceal the fact they are prostitutes, most true geisha refuse to have sex with clients unless the men go through the ritualized process of becoming a danna. Thus, according to Mameha, a geisha wins her independence through sex.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
Mameha explains that Hatsumomo hasn’t had a danna in a very long time. Generally, the female managers of teahouses act as mediators between a geisha and a potential danna. Since Hatsumomo is always rude to the teahouse managers, they always sabotage her whenever a man shows interest in becoming her danna. Without a danna, Hatsumomo has never made enough money to leave the okiya.
Mameha’s explanation shows how the world of the geisha is traditionally run entirely by women. In a Japanese society where women have few avenues for personal or economic independence, women can gain autonomy by running okiya or teahouses.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
Mameha tells Chiyo that dance is the most revered art form, and the most important one for seducing men into wanting to be her danna. Though Chiyo doesn’t feel she has any natural talent for dance, her determination to become a geisha makes her work hard in class. Yet she still feels as if she fails to impart her movements with any emotion. One night she thinks of her family and feels a melancholy heaviness come upon her. She then casually moves her arm, and realizes that she has done so with great dignity. Chiyo discovers that when her body feels heavy, she can move with greater expressiveness and dignity. From that day on, Chiyo dances as if the Chairman were observing her movements, which gives her dance a deep sense of feeling.
Chiyo’s realization about her dance movements recalls Tanaka’s belief that she will learn to make beauty out of suffering. In this way, true beauty is melancholic, in the sense that it cannot be an artifice – a mimicry of suffering – but instead it must emanate from a true, internal source of pain. Though some dancers might be able to artificially replicate this appearance of pain, Chiyo will become a greater dancer because her pain is real, thus making her transformation of it more than just an artifice or appearance.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon