Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sayuri had only seen the Chairman for the briefest moment years ago, but she had spent many evenings holding his handkerchief to her cheek and imagining his face, so she feels confident that it is him. Mameha introduces Sayuri to the men, and as Sayuri pours the Chairman his tea, she notices him staring at her. The Chairman asks her if it’s her first time at a sumo match, but before she can respond, there’s a giant booming and the match begins.
The handkerchief acts as a reminder of Sayuri’s goals and ambitions, and every night that she holds it to her face, she remembers that love and kindness exist in this world. The handkerchief thus helps her bear the struggles of working toward her true desire of being with the Chairman. This all seems rather sentimental and naïve in one way—as she has only met the Chairman once—but it does provide Sayuri with hope and purpose.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
As the men concentrate on the match, Sayuri finds herself staring at Nobu’s scars. She had been so preoccupied by the Chairman’s presence that she hadn’t even realized that Nobu was missing an arm. Though Sayuri didn’t know it at the time, Nobu had lost his arm and received the scars while in the army. With an incoming shell heading straight for Nobu’s commanding officer, Nobu laid himself over the man and was severely injured as a result. In the present, Sayuri says that if she knew of Nobu’s heroism at the time she met him, she would have felt ashamed of herself for feeling repulsed by his injuries.
Nobu represents the absolute opposite of Hatsumomo with regard to the Beauty, Truth, and Artifice theme. While Hatsumomo is beautiful on the outside but cruel, vengeful, and conceited on the inside, Nobu is physically unattractive but a loyal and noble person. Again, this novel emphasizes the idea that appearances can be deceiving.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
When the first match ends and the crowd quiets down, Sayuri turns back to the Chairman and says she has never been to a sumo match before. Hearing this, Nobu turns to Sayuri and says that if she wants to learn about sumo then she should talk to him. So as not to offend Nobu, Sayuri pulls her gaze away from the Chairman to talk to him. Nobu asks why Sayuri didn’t follow the geishas’ “foolish tradition” of taking the first part of her older sister’s name. Sayuri says that Mameha’s fortuneteller thought it was too inauspicious to do so. When Nobu says that she should stop listening to fools, the Chairman says that while Nobu might sound like a very “modern man,” Nobu actually believes more strongly in destiny than anyone else the Chairman knows. Nobu responds that everyone has a destiny, but that doesn’t mean we should listen to the lies of fortunetellers.
Nobu’s remarks about destiny illustrate the potential divide between his view of destiny and Mameha’s. Mameha believes that a person can know their destinies by consulting almanacs and fortunetellers, but Nobu suggests that these methods are foolish nonsense. As will become clear, Nobu’s view of destiny is a more nuanced one—here, he insinuates that fortunetellers can’t give insight into a person’s destiny because people in fact control their own personal destiny or life’s purpose. Our actions make our destiny – fortunetellers have no say in the matter.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon
During the next match, Sayuri notices out of the corner of her eye Hatsumomo staring at her. When she sees her, Sayuri feels as if she has touched an electric wire. Worried that Hatsumomo will try to embarrass her in front of the Chairman, Sayuri points her out to Mameha. Mameha and Sayuri excuse themselves from the men so they can talk about what to do in private.
Sayuri has spent the last two years of her life working towards this moment: an encounter with the Chairman. But Hatsumomo has the power to ruin all of her hopes in just one afternoon. Still unsure how to handle Hatsumomo, Sayuri is almost powerless to stop her.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
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Mameha tells Sayuri that Hatsumomo will leave her alone if Hatsumomo thinks that Sayuri is already embarrassing herself. Mameha explains that though Nobu is a loyal and trustworthy man, Hatsumomo only sees him as “Mr. Lizard” because of his facial scars. If Hatsumomo thinks that Sayuri is enjoying her evening with Nobu, then Hatsumomo will leave her alone, because she will think Sayuri is embarrassing herself.
Hatsumomo’s incapability of looking beyond Nobu’s appearance to the truth of his personality shows that she is only concerned with superficial appearances. This might suggest why she feels no remorse about her cruelty. Since she believes outside beauty is all there is, she can’t even perceive her own inner ugliness.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
When the women return, Sayuri fawns over Nobu, showing interest in whatever he says about sumo. When Sayuri looks over in Hatsumomo’s direction, she sees Hatsumomo clapping in delight over Sayuri’s apparent affection for “Mr. Lizard.” To keep herself engrossed in the conversation, Sayuri imagines Nobu as the Chairman. At one point she convinces herself that she and the Chairman are alone in quiet room.
Here, Sayuri deceives Hatsumomo at the same time that she deceives herself. In order to bear flirting with Nobu, Sayuri creates the illusion that Nobu is actually the Chairman. In this way, Sayuri’s flirting actual appears truthful, because she herself has tricked herself into believing she is talking with the man she loves—just as when she dances, she tricks herself into feeling the pain she once experienced.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
Caught up in her fantasy, Sayuri makes a comment which provokes Nobu to yell that that only a fool could say such an ignorant thing. Thinking that a girl truly in love with a man would tear up at a moment like this, Sayuri casts down her eyes and makes her lip tremble, hoping that this display will convince Hatsumomo of her infatuation with Nobu. Seeing her hurt, Nobu apologizes and says that she is a charming girl. Nobu is about to say more, but the crowd begins to cheer as the famous sumo wrester Miyagiyama comes into the ring.
Sayuri’s performance shows that she is truly growing into a masterful geisha. Geisha not only learn the arts of music and dance, but also learn how to become actors or performers, creating illusions for the men they entertain. In this case, Sayuri creates the illusion that she is hurt by Nobu’s words, convincing both Hatsumomo and Nobu of her affection for him.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
To cheer her up, Nobu kindly tells Sayuri to watch how the masterful Miyagiyama taunts his opponent by refusing to look at him in the eyes. Angered that Miyagiyama is showing him such disrespect, the other wrestler rushes at Miyagiyama. Right at the edge of the sumo ring, Miyagiyama uses the force of his opponent to knock him off balance and push him out of the ring. With his opponent out of the ring, Miyagiyama wins the match. Seeing this occur, Mameha whispers to Sayuri that she just got an idea for how to throw Hatsumomo off balance.
Miyagiyama’s fluid movements and wrestling moves suggest that he, like Sayuri, might have “water” in his personality. Instead of attacking the other wrestler head on, he adapts his movements and body weight to meet the opponent’s. To defeat Hatsumomo, Sayuri must harness her own fluidity and use Hatsumomo’s weaknesses against her. Sayuri succeeds in this scene by taking advantage of Hatsumomo’s superficial perceptions of Nobu.
Themes
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon