Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few weeks later, Sayuri is taking a break at rehearsals for the dance performance when Mameha comes up to her. Mameha says that the Baron is throwing a party in honor of the famous kimono maker Arashino, who is a great friend of Nobu’s. Mameha is going to persuade the Baron to invite both the Doctor and Nobu. Mameha hopes that they will compete over Sayuri’s affection, which will hopefully lead to an increase in bidding over Sayuri’s mizuage.
The competition between Nobu and the Doctor over Sayuri marks the first love triangle in the novel. In traditional love triangles of two men and one woman, the woman usually must decide between the two men, both whom she loves in different ways. Yet Sayuri’s love triangle is one that can only exist in the world of a geisha. Sayuri has no love for either man and, instead of competing for Sayuri’s affection, the men compete for her virginity.
Themes
Sex and Love Theme Icon
At the Baron’s luxurious house later that week, Mameha and Sayuri serve tea to the Baron’s guests around a pond. Nobu watches Sayuri as she sits near Dr. Crab. Sayuri tells the Doctor that she has been practicing her balance so that she won’t fall again. She says that every night after her bath, she stands naked on one foot. Sayuri then claps a hand over her mouth in mock embarrassment.
Sayuri’s story and mock embarrassment reveal the nature of men’s fantasies. In this society, men want geisha to be both innocent and sexually alluring at the same time. To do this, Sayuri tells a story that prompts the Doctor to think of her naked, but she also pretends as if she is too innocent to realize the story’s suggestiveness.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Overhearing the conversation, the Baron says that he would pay large sums of money just to watch Sayuri take a bath. Though the Baron didn’t pay attention to Sayuri the last time he saw her, now he ogles her, perhaps because Sayuri has grown into an attractive woman. When Mameha says that they should spare the apprentice geisha this conversation, the Baron waves her off, saying Sayuri needs to know the truth about the world: plenty of men act chaste, but they all want the same thing. To save her from the awkward conversation, Nobu excuses himself to use the bathroom and asks Sayuri to accompany him.
The Baron’s cynical view that men only care about sex seems brutish, but is in fact more honest than the euphemisms and posturing of the other men we’ve seen. Even Sayuri seemed to develop this same viewpoint after learning about mizuage. Eventually, however, Sayuri will come to realize that some men – at least the good ones – are looking for something more than just sex.
Themes
Beauty, Artifice, and Truth Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
On the way to the bathroom, Nobu stands in front of a glass case displaying an antique sword. Nobu says the Baron is an antique just like this sword. Sayuri can tell that Nobu thinks the Baron is a relic of a feudal age.
Nobu has apparently taken offense at the Baron’s comments, which shows that he most likely disagrees about men’s desires. Nobu thus suggests that he himself might care for Sayuri as a person and not as a sexual object.
Themes
Sex and Love Theme Icon
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By the time the men start to eat dinner, the Baron is so drunk that his eyes slosh around in his head. During dinner, the Doctor asks Sayuri to accompany him to the bathroom. The Doctor stops at the same glass case where Nobu did. Aware that Nobu is interested in Sayuri, the Doctor insults Nobu by saying that he is an uncultured man who would have no appreciation for antiques like those in the box.
The novel juxtaposes how Nobu and the Doctor speak to Sayuri by having them both stop in front of the same glass case. Both men use the sword to expound upon their own opinions, but Nobu at least isn’t petty and jealous like the Doctor.
Themes
Sex and Love Theme Icon
After dinner, the Baron suggests that Mameha wear one of Arashino’s kimonos to the Baron’s party next week. Mameha says she can’t go because she has a doctor’s appointment. The Baron says she should just cancel it, but Mameha says she cannot. The Baron gets angry and says that it’s not like she’s getting an abortion. A long, embarrassed silence follows. Realizing that Mameha is going for an abortion, the Baron says that she should have told him about the appointment in private. The Baron then says that if Mameha can’t come, he wants Sayuri to come in her place. Mameha says that Sayuri has rehearsals, but the Baron gets angry and demands that Sayuri come. Mameha agrees.
Mameha’s abortion reveals, once again, that her relationship with the Baron is devoid of actual love or affection. Without any love for each other, there seems to be no question in either of their minds that she will have the Baron’s baby. All the Baron wants from Mameha is sex, not a family. In this scene, the novel implies that abortion is an unspoken reality of a geisha’s life.
Themes
Sex and Love Theme Icon
On the rickshaw ride back, Mameha tells Sayuri to be cautious at the party. She says that “an apprentice on the point of having her mizuage is like a meal served on the table.” Sayuri knows perfectly well that she is talking specifically about the Baron.
Earlier, Sayuri compared herself to sushi, and now Mameha compares her to a meal, again showing that society views geisha like objects or food for the pleasure and consumption of men.
Themes
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Tradition, Ritual, and Gender Theme Icon