Memoirs of a Geisha

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Memoirs of a Geisha Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hatsumomo laughs and says she just remembered the funniest story about Sayuri. Hatsumomo says she was walking in Gion when she saw the young Sayuri being blown backwards by a gust of wind. Hatsumomo says that Sayuri landed right onto the hood of car. Since the wind had lifted up Sayuri’s kimono over her hips, the driver could see her private parts pressed against the windshield. When the men all start laughing, Hatsumomo mock scolds them, saying they shouldn’t laugh because Sayuri is like a baby who probably has no hair down there at all. Hatsumomo asks Sayuri if she has any hair, and Sayuri says that she does, pointing to the hair on her head. The men laugh and Hatsumomo glares at Sayuri. At that, Mameha and Sayuri excuse themselves and leave.
Just as Mameha exaggerates to please the men, Hatsumomo makes up a total lie in order to embarrass Sayuri. In this way, storytelling conveys more than just the content of the story. Mameha’s story implied that she is so beautiful that men want to hear her urinate, while Hatsumomo’s story implies that Sayuri is an ungraceful and indelicate geisha. Thus, when reading Sayuri’s memoirs, we should stay attuned to what Sayuri tries to convey beyond the facts of her life story.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
Back at the okiya after bathing and removing her makeup, Sayuri is talking to Auntie when Hatsumomo comes home and slaps Sayuri across the face. Sayuri is so stunned by the slap that she cannot recall what happens immediately afterward. The next thing she remembers is Hatsumomo yelling at Auntie that if Sayuri ever embarrasses her again in public, she’ll slap her on the other side of the face. Sayuri asks how she embarrassed her. Hatsumomo answers that Sayuri knew perfectly well that Hatsumomo wasn’t referring to the hair on her head. Before stomping off, Hatsumomo says that she will get Sayuri back for what she did.
Hatsumomo’s anger shows the importance of a geisha’s public appearance. Geisha rely on cultivating a public image of flawless beauty and perfect gracefulness, so anything that breaks that illusion (for example, being embarrassed by an apprentice geisha) risks undermining the whole facade. For example, if the men ever learn of Hatsumomo’s cruel and ugly personality, then they might find her artifice less enchanting.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
The next night, Mameha and Sayuri go to another party, but Hatsumomo and Pumpkin show up shortly after they arrive. Mameha and Sayuri leave so that Hatsumomo won’t have a chance to tell more lies about Sayuri and ruin her reputation. When they arrive at another party, Hatsumomo and Pumpkin again arrive a few minutes after them. Outside, Mameha tells Sayuri that they will have to suspend her debut until they can figure out a way to stop Hatsumomo from following them. Otherwise, Hatsumomo will continue to spread rumors wherever they go.
Hatsumomo’s rumors show how little control Sayuri has over her own life. Sayuri’s livelihood and success are tied up with how the men in Gion perceive her, so if she gets a bad reputation, then she will lose all hope of becoming a geisha. These rumors and perceptions show how external and human forces – rather than the unknown powers of destiny – are powerful factors in shaping a person’s life.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
A few weeks later, Sayuri receives a note from Mameha telling her to come to her apartment immediately. At the apartment, Mameha says that her danna, a man she calls the Baron, has arrived today from Tokyo. Mameha wants him to meet Sayuri. Mameha leads her to the reception room, where Sayuri kneels before the Baron. Mameha introduces Sayuri to him, but he barely seems to be listening, and doesn’t even glance at Sayuri.
The Baron’s reaction to Sayuri shows how some men treat women as insignificant, and not even worthy of being looked at. Since Sayuri’s role as a geisha is to be an object for men to gaze upon, the Baron undermines her ability to perform her duties as a geisha by ignoring her. Thus, his neglect makes Sayuri doubt herself and her skills.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
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The Baron, Mameha, and Sayuri sit together, but the Baron and Mameha do all the talking. Feeling that she has nothing to contribute to the conversation, Sayuri doubts that she will ever become a good enough geisha to keep powerful men like the Baron entertained. At that moment, Sayuri becomes aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped about her body, and feels as if she might drown in beauty. Sayuri thinks that beauty itself is “a kind of painful melancholy.”
Sayuri’s perception of beauty further establishes the link between beauty and suffering. At this moment, Sayuri does not feel she deserves to be in the presence of so much beauty, and so it becomes a “painful melancholy” because it reminds her of her own self-doubts.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon