Memoirs of a Geisha

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Memoirs of a Geisha Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That afternoon, Hatsumomo brings Chiyo to the Registry Office for geisha who reside in the Gion district of Kyoto. According to geisha traditions, the head geisha of an okiya signs up the new apprentice on the day that the apprentice begins her training. When the registry clerk says that Chiyo’s eyes remind him of the sparkly grey color of a mirror, Hatsumomo interjects that they look more like a dead man’s tongue.
The clerk’s and Hatsumomo’s comments expand on the symbolic significance of Chiyo’s eyes. If Chiyo’s eyes resemble a mirror, then perhaps they are now – in addition to being windows into Chiyo’s soul – mirrors that reflect the souls of the people who look at them. Since Hatsumomo has an inner cruelty, she only sees the reflection of her own ugliness.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
That evening back at the okiya, Hatsumomo lets Chiyo watch her put on the geisha makeup as part of the tradition. Chiyo says (to the reader) that when a geisha wakes up in the morning she is like any other woman. Only when she sits by the mirror and puts on the makeup does she become a geisha. Chiyo watches Hatsumomo paint her face and neck with a white chalk paste. A geisha leaves a thin ring of bare skin around the hairline, causing her makeup to look more artificial, almost like a mask. This is supposed to be more erotic, because when a man notices that a geisha’s makeup is like a mask, he becomes more aware of her bare skin underneath.
Tradition is so integral to the life of a geisha that even the cruel Hatsumomo allows Chiyo to observe her in her most private moments. Chiyo’s thoughts on the geisha’s makeup also reveal how geisha craft an artificial appearance because this appearance paradoxically heightens the awareness and desire for truth. In this way, artifice can actually bring us into a deeper appreciation of the truth – an idea that will return near the end of the novel in relation to our memories as artifices.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth  Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
Hatsumomo then puts on the many layers of the kimono. Every okiya has a professional dresser to help the geisha tie her obi – the broad sash worn around the waist of a kimono. While most women in Japan wear kimonos with obi, the geisha’s obi is so wide and intricately tied that only professional dressers know how to tie the obi properly. Finally, Hatsumomo picks out some hair ornaments for her elaborate hairstyle. The outfit she wears that day costs more than a policeman would make in an entire year. Before Hatsumomo leaves the okiya, Auntie sparks a flint behind her back for good luck. Chiyo says that geisha are superstitious, and will never leave the okiya to go entertain men before someone sparks a flint at their back.
The ritual of sparking the flint at a geisha’s back shows how geisha rely on superstitions to gain some control over their lives. As Ms. Fidget’s actions have shown, some people treat a geisha’s body as a sexual object for the pleasure or profit of others. In this society that devalues the right a geisha has over her own body, geisha walk through the city under constant threat that a man might use violence to satisfy his sexual desire. With so little power in their society, geisha use small rituals like striking a flint to feel as if they are taking some control over their lives by warding off bad luck.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon