The Chairman gives Sayuri a handkerchief (wrapped around a coin) when Sayuri is crying by the stream, and this act of kindness is a great comfort to her. In the following years, this handkerchief comes to represent the possibility of love in a world where sex is a commodity to be exchanged and love seems like an unattainable fantasy. In the novel, young geisha apprentices lose their virginity to the highest bidder, while experienced geisha have sex with patrons in exchange for lavish gifts. Likewise, most geisha trade in the illusion of love, making their living by flirting and fawning over men without ever experiencing actual love for them. Even though most geisha are cynical when it comes to finding love, Sayuri keeps the Chairman’s handkerchief in the sleeve of her kimono every day as a reminder of his kindness and the possibility of love. Since the Chairman and Sayuri come together as lovers at the end of the novel, the handkerchief also comes to symbolize actual love in a world where it seems like only an illusion.
The Chairman’s Handkerchief Symbol Timeline in Memoirs of a Geisha
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Chairman’s Handkerchief appears in Memoirs of a Geisha. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.