The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji An Autumn Excursion Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the middle of October, the Emperor plans to make an excursion to the Suzaku Palace. This will include dancing and because the Emperor doesn’t want Fujitsubo and the other ladies to feel left out, he orders a full rehearsal at the palace so that the ladies can watch. Tō no Chūjō and Genji dance "Waves of the Blue Ocean," and though Tō no Chūjō is a fine dancer, Genji is described as a blossoming cherry next to a nondescript shrub. His performance brings the entire audience to tears; even Kokiden is in awe. Fujitsubo, however, still feels disconnected and guilty about her secret. She spends the night with the Emperor and is forced to make small talk about how fine Genji's performance was.
Again, when even Kokiden is unable to truly hate Genji, it reinforces that Genji is somehow set apart from everyone else in some fundamental way. The way that the narrator compares Genji and Tō no Chūjō—by using nature imagery and specifically, the symbol of cherries for Genji—suggests that Genji is even more important, given that he's conflated with this symbol of renewal and rebirth.
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The next morning, Genji sends Fujitsubo a letter asking if she could sense his feelings for her through his dance. She agrees that she could, and Genji treasures the letter. Several days later, Genji and the other courtiers leave for the Suzaku palace. The Emperor chooses virtuosos to play the flute, and again Genji's dance "Waves of the Blue Ocean" moves people to tears. The other dances are boring in comparison. Genji and Tō no Chūjō are promoted, along with others.
It's somewhat unclear throughout the remainder of the novel if Fujitsubo actually does nurse feelings for Genji or if she's writing to him like this to appease him; regardless, it reinforces how powerful Genji is that he can garner either response from her. This also illustrates how, in comparison, she has little power to either turn away Genji or control how she feels about him.
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Fujitsubo goes home to her family. Genji tries to see her, but his in-laws criticize him for this. He also has to fend off rumors of Murasaki, and Aoi in particular is very upset. Genji feels that if Aoi were open about her complaints that he might tell her the truth about Murasaki—which would certainly make her less jealous—but she isn't, so he doesn't share. He continues to believe that once his wife gets to know him better, she'll come around. Murasaki, on the other hand, begins to mature, though she remains childishly clingy. Genji continues to keep her a secret from others at court. He spends a great deal of time tutoring her in calligraphy and how to be a proper lady. He stays the night when he can and when he doesn't, Murasaki's wistfulness when she says goodbye charms him.
The way that Genji speaks about Aoi here shows him viewing the callous way that he treats her as her fault rather than his, which illustrates another way in which men are able to take power from the women around them. Though the novel doesn't say it outright, it implies that "the truth about Murasaki" is her age, which suggests that Genji believes that an outside observer wouldn't be concerned about his relationship with a child. Again, this shows that Genji knows how to use courtiers' understandings of customs to his advantage, as the reader is well aware that his intentions are absolutely improper.
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Finally, Genji is able to visit Fujitsubo. Omyōbu and other ladies in waiting receive him, but Fujitsubo herself won't see him. Prince Hyōbu is there as well. At dusk, Hyōbu goes behinds the blinds to speak to Fujitsubo and leaves Genji to feel secretly jealous outside. Finally, Genji stiffly bids Omyōbu and Fujitsubo goodbye. He laments how fleeting their relationship had been.
In her family home, surrounded by someone as powerful as Prince Hyōbu, Fujitsubo does have some power to dictate how and if she sees Genji. This reinforces the importance of having powerful family members, as this is clearly the only reason Fujitsubo has any agency here.
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Shōnagon continues to marvel at where her life is taking her. Though she worries some that Genji isn't as attentive to Murasaki as he could be, Murasaki's future seems secure. Murasaki's mourning period for the nun ends on New Year's Eve, and Genji thinks she looks even more beautiful now that she can wear color again. On New Year's Eve, he watches her take repairs to her dollhouse very seriously and try not to cry. When he leaves, Shōnagon encourages Murasaki to try to grow up a little bit and be "a little more wifely." Murasaki is somewhat perplexed that she has a husband and realizes she's growing up. The narrator notes that it didn't occur to Murasaki's women that, at this point, she's not yet a wife.
Shōnagon's private thoughts make it much clearer that she and other serving women want their ladies to become involved with powerful men for their own benefit; her musing about where her life is taking her suggests that she occupies a far more important station than she ever imagined she would've without Genji's help. Shōnagon and Genji's advice to Murasaki suggests that her coming of age will happen soon and she'll make the shift from being a child to being Genji's lover.
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Genji heads to Sanjō to visit Aoi. He suggests that for the new year, she could be friendlier. However, Aoi has no intention of being friendlier; she's convinced that the lady her husband is spending so much time with (that is, Murasaki) has become his favorite. Aoi's elegance still manages to make Genji feel like a child, and he feels as though he can't do anything right. The Minister of the Left is annoyed that Genji has other dalliances as well, but he likes Genji himself too much to bring it up. He bestows a belt upon Genji as a gift. Genji makes only a few other visits for the new year.
It's worth noting that Aoi isn't wrong about the "lady" that Genji is spending time with, given that the narration is pretty vocal about the fact that Genji enjoys spending time with Murasaki more than he enjoys any of his other ladies. That Genji still feels like a child next to Aoi suggests that such an age difference between husband wife is partially to blame for their problems, which further implies that Genji and Murasaki may experience issues in the future.
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Fujitsubo was supposed to give birth in December, but her pregnancy continues through January. She becomes so worried she falls ill but finally, at the end of February, she finally gives birth to her and Genji’s son (Reizei). Not wanting to give Kokiden the satisfaction of seeing her die, her will to live returns and she recovers. Genji attempts to visit Fujitsubo early to see his son, but she denies his request. The narrator notes that the baby looks a lot like Genji, and Fujitsubo feels guilty and afraid that this will out her secret. Omyōbu refuses to help Genji see the baby or Fujitsubo, though she tells Genji that everyone is upset. This upsets Fujitsubo, and she never treats Omyōbu the same again.
When Fujitsubo resolves to recover just to spite Kokiden, it again reminds the reader that female jealousy and competition is what truly drives the story and how women conduct their lives. The fact that Fujitsubo appears to now live her life in fear reinforces how precarious her position is, as Genji's decision to rape her is clearly something that has the power to damage her standing with the Emperor (even though she, herself, did not instigate the act).
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In April, Reizei is finally brought to the palace. He looks amazingly like Genji, which thrills the Emperor. He dotes on the baby and names him crown prince, regretting that he couldn't do the same for Genji. One afternoon, Genji sits in Fujitsubo's apartments listening to music when the Emperor walks in with Reizei. He notes the resemblance between Genji and Reizei, and Genji is simultaneously scared and touched. Fujitsubo begins sweating from nervousness. Genji finally leaves, trying to hide how upset he is.
It's worth noting that Genji's transgression doesn't go entirely unpunished; though his fear doesn't seem to be nearly as strong as Fujitsubo's, he still fears what might happen if the Emperor finds out that Reizei is Genji's son. This shows that it's important that men get involved with the right women, though they certainly have more choice as to what the "right" woman is.
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Upon his return to the palace, Genji sends a long letter with carnations to Omyōbu to give to Fujitsubo, but Fujitsubo instructs Omyōbu to reply with something short. Fujitsubo does, however, include a short poem insisting she can't change anything. Genji decides to visit Murasaki to lift his spirits and plays the flute for her. Murasaki is annoyed that he didn't come to see her sooner. She petulantly recites a poem asking why he never visits, and Genji reprimands her for complaining. He asks her to play a thirteen-stringed koto for him and she does, beautifully. They look at pictures until Genji's attendants surreptitiously remind him that it's time to go out.
Keep in mind that while Genji has power over all of the women he sees, he has even more power over Murasaki because she's a child. This is evidenced by the fact that Aoi complains nearly every time Genji sees her yet seems to not suffer because this seeming rudeness, while it appears that Murasaki may actually suffer if she becomes too petulant or whiney for Genji's taste.
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Murasaki is suddenly forlorn, so Genji asks her if she misses him while he's gone. He explains that he misses her too, but he must keep Aoi happy. He promises that when Murasaki is an adult, he'll never leave her. She falls asleep in his lap and Genji decides not to go visit Aoi. He wakes Murasaki to have dinner and agrees to stay the night.
Genji's decision-making process here shows that he's very much governed by his whims and desires in the moment. This suggests in turn that he's not great at thinking ahead or considering consequences, which will become important later.
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Those at the Minister of the Left and Aoi's house think it's odd that Genji is spending so much time with his mysterious lady. They gossip that he must have lost his mind over the lady and is now ashamed to have people see her, though by now they have discovered that Murasaki is a child. Later, the Emperor reprimands Genji for not pleasing his in-laws, but feels bad that Genji isn't happy with Aoi.
The fact that the Emperor is sad about Genji's unhappy marriage but is mostly concerned about keeping the Minister of the Left happy shows that in some ways, Genji is a pawn just as some of the women and other children are—he needs to behave properly to keep the Emperor in favor.
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The narrator notes that the Emperor still keeps pretty women around and Genji smiles and jokes with most of them. One woman, Naishi, piques Genji's interest: she's sixty years old and talented, but isn't discriminating when it comes to lovers. He finds her forwardness fun but after a few rendezvous, he calls the whole thing off. He doesn't want to be seen as a child lover of an old lady. This upsets Naishi. One morning, Naishi and Genji find themselves alone together, so Naishi flirts with him. He approaches her, thinking that her hair is stringy and her fan is far too gaudy for an old lady.
Naishi is different from other women Genji sleeps with primarily in that she's not afraid to ask for what she wants. It's telling then that Genji doesn't think well of her, as it plays right into Genji's desire to dominate and control the women he's involved with. It's also important to keep in mind that Naishi also becomes the butt of jokes late—-in other words, the reader isn't supposed to like her forwardness either, which points to it being uncouth in Heian culture as a whole.
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Naishi and Genji chat for a while and she attempts to convince him to visit her in private. He tries to shake her off, but she cries and accuses him of neglecting her. The Emperor walks in and is very amused by what he finds. Naishi doesn't correct the Emperor when he believes she and Genji are having a true affair; she thinks that the rumor might help her. The rumors spread and Tō no Chūjō decides he'd also like to begin seeing Naishi. Genji doesn't know about this and one evening, comes across Naishi singing. The two flirt for a while and finally, Genji accepts her invitation to have sex. Genji dozes off after.
Again, Naishi's calculation that a rumor of being involved with Genji may be of help her reinforces the fact that women gain power in this culture by associating with (or by appearing to associate with) powerful men. This also begins to develop Genji's reputation at court, as it implies that being one of Genji's lovers carries with it specific social benefits.
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Tō no Chūjō believes that Genji's normal self-righteousness and sense of propriety is surely hiding something incriminating. Discovering Genji with Naishi, he decides to teach Genji a lesson. Genji hears someone come in and believes that Naishi neglected to tell him about another lover. He gathers his clothes and hides behind a screen. Tō no Chūjō folds the screen back and steals Genji's clothes as Naishi tries to get him to stop. Tō no Chūjō tries not to laugh and finally, Genji realizes who interrupted him. Genji watches Naishi flutter about and decides the whole scene is stupid and funny. When Tō no Chūjō refuses to give Genji his clothes back, Genji tries to take Tō no Chūjō's clothes off. They exchange poems as some of their clothing rips and finally, they go off together laughing.
Here in particular, Naishi is the one the reader is supposed to laugh at, even as Tō no Chūjō seeks to make Genji the butt of the joke. This shows that Genji is, once again, beyond reproach and is exceptional in fundamental ways, while women like Naishi, who ask for what they want and seek to have sex with powerful men, are funny. It's also telling that Tō no Chūjō barely seems to acknowledge Naishi; this suggests that he doesn't see her as worth his time or acknowledgement at all, even though her presence is what makes his "joke" even work.
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The next morning, Genji wakes to an angry note from Naishi about being abandoned along with packages containing several articles of his clothing. He finds the note wholly inappropriate and sends her an admonishing poem in return. He realizes the belt is Tō no Chūjō's, so he wraps it and returns it to him. Tō no Chūjō returns Genji's ripped sleeve and tells him to keep Naishi. Later at court, the men smile at each other and in private, Genji remarks that Tō no Chūjō must be upset that he wasn't invited to the rendezvous. He vows to not see Naishi again. After this, the rivalry between Tō no Chūjō and Genji intensifies.
Naishi is likely very embarrassed and hurt by what happened; Genji's inability to see this indicates that he absolutely views her as a means to a fun romp, not a person in her own right with thoughts and feelings that also matter. The jokes about "keeping" Naishi also suggest that both men view women in general as property, which adds more reasoning to why they seek to gain power over their lovers.
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In the summer, the Emperor names Fujitsubo empress. This, of course, sends Kokiden into a rage. Rumors fly that the Emperor is neglecting a lady with twenty years experience (Kokiden) for someone else. On the night that Fujitsubo makes her formal appearance, Genji is distraught. He knows this title bump will mean that she'll be out of his reach forever. Fujitsubo continues to fear that the secret will get out as Reizei grows and resembles Genji more and more.
The rumors about Fujitsubo closely mirror the ones that plagued the Lady of the Paulownia Court, which indicates that the intense rivalry that killed the Paulownia Lady is still alive and well in the Emperor's court. Keep in mind too that Fujitsubo now has no female allies, as she's no longer close with Omyōbu.
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