The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji Heartvine Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Around this time, the Emperor abdicates and Suzaku takes the throne. With this, Genji finds that he has to be extra discreet with his romances. This means he has less to amuse him and people begin to complain that he's quite aloof. Fujitsubo happily spends her time with the Emperor, which annoys Kokiden. She doesn't follow the Emperor when he moves out of the main palace. The Emperor, meanwhile, spends his time missing Reizei and worrying that he has no strong backers, so he asks Genji to be Reizei's guardian and advisor.
Though the novel doesn't say outright, Genji has to be more careful because Kokiden's power increases now that her son, Suzaku, is the emperor. By remaining in the palace and not following the Emperor, Kokiden shows that she means to take her role as regent seriously and plans to use her son's position to her advantage as much as she can.
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The Rokujō Lady is also affected by the change in emperor. Her young daughter, Akikonomu, is appointed high priestess of the Ise Shrine. Because Genji no longer shows her reliable affection and because of Akikonomu's youth, the Rokujō lady decides to go to Ise with her daughter. The Emperor is very upset about this, especially when he learns that Genji neglected the lady. He reprimands Genji and tells him to not make women angry with him. Genji shudders at the possibility that his father might learn of his affair with Fujitsubo, and then excuses himself.
The Rokujō Lady's decision shows that one way women can take power and attempt to control their lives is by removing themselves from court life altogether. It's telling too that she's able to do this because of her daughter, as it reinforces that parents can absolutely use their children to their advantage in situations like this.
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The Emperor's words do little to make matters better; in fact, they instigate a number of rumors instead. Genji makes it seem as though he's leaving the Rokujō lady alone because she wants to be left alone (effectively making his neglect her fault). Fearing a similar fate, one of Genji's regular correspondents, Princess Asagao, preemptively cuts off communication with him. Genji's in-laws are also upset with him, though they keep their complaints to themselves since Aoi is pregnant and very ill. Genji neglects all his other lovers.
When the Emperor isn't able to help Genji anymore and in fact, makes things worse for his son, it indicates that he's truly no longer in power: Suzaku and by extension Kokiden are the ones in charge now. In turn, this means that Genji is no longer the darling he once was and is consequentially less able to woo new lovers like Princess Asagao.
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The high priestess at Kamo resigns and is replaced by one of Kokiden's daughters. In preparation for the ceremonies and the festival, courtiers decorate their carriages. The streets are filled with carriages on the day of the celebration, and ladies' sleeves coming out of the carriages are bright and colorful. Though Aoi has no interest in going, her serving women and her mother, Princess Omiya, convince her to go. Aoi and her ladies take a minimally decorated carriage and find two unattended carriages in the street. Aoi’s  footmen try to get the carriages to move. Both these footmen and the footmen meant to be manning the unattended carriages have been drinking, however, and the conflict devolves into an argument.
Remember that the sleeves dangling out of the carriages at this event are the only way for women to appropriately flag down and flirt with prospective lovers, given that the women themselves are supposed to remain hidden. When Aoi's mother and her ladies are able to talk her into going, it again suggests that serving women may hold more power in this society than one might think, given how objectively powerful Aoi is all by herself.
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The Sanjō footmen (that is, Aoi’s) recognize that the unattended carriages belong to the Rokujō Lady, who only wants to watch the parade and forget her sorrows. Aoi's carriages squeeze in, completely blocking the Rokujō Lady's view, who is upset both by the insult and that she was recognized despite not decorating her carriages. She considers going home but decides to wait and see Genji go by. He doesn't even look at her as he passes, making her feel even worse. Genji's beauty outshines that of all of his attendants, and ladies jostle to see him even though it's in poor form.
Remember that the Rokujō Lady has been slighted several times by Genji at this point. The anger and sadness she feels when Aoi's carriages block her view suggests that one of the reasons she's been able to keep herself together is because she doesn't have to actually see Genji's wife in person. In turn, this sets the stage for her jealousy to become even more pronounced.
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Genji finds out about the carriage debacle later. He feels horrible for the Rokujō lady and angry at Aoi, who he feels is uncompassionate and rude. Genji tries to call on the Rokujō lady to apologize, but Akikonomu sends him away. He instead goes to see Murasaki and marvels at how long her hair has grown. He decides it's time to trim it. She writes him a childish poem asking why he doesn't visit more often. After this, Genji returns to the festival.
Though Genji's annoyance at Aoi is understandable, the fact that he's so angry suggests that he's not entirely aware of how jealousy works among women. While he sees that he has enough affection to go around, the women he sees clearly don't feel the same way—and since they have no way of knowing, they act as though it's in short supply.
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Genji's carriage can barely find a place. Eventually, a lady dangles her fan out of a window and invites Genji to take her place. Genji and the lady exchange poems and he realizes the woman is none other than Naishi. He refuses her advances and thinks she's tasteless.
Again, when Genji thinks of Naishi as being tasteless, it shows that women aren't supposed to ask for what they want. This in turn shows that as far as Genji is concerned, he needs to be in charge of romantic relationships.
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The Rokujō Lady continues to dwell in her sorrows. She knows she'll be lonely at Ise, but she fears that people in the city will laugh at her if she stays. Genji attempts to convince her to stay, but his notes only make her sadder and angrier. Meanwhile, in Sanjō, Aoi appears to be possessed by a malign spirit. Genji takes up temporary residence there and summons exorcists. The Sanjō household asks the exorcists if the Rokujō Lady and Murasaki, the two ladies of Genji's who are sure to be the most jealous, may be to blame for the spirit. The exorcists think not. When the Rokujō Lady learns that the Emperor is calling for religious services for Aoi, she becomes even more jealous.
The Rokujō Lady's preoccupation with what others might think reminds the reader that the only currency she has is her reputation—and, at this point, it’s unclear if Genji is going to help or hinder that. Again, though Genji is doing the right thing by spending time with Aoi in her time of need, it makes other women who are far more vulnerable question if they're important enough for him to similarly care for, which only heightens their sense of jealousy.
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Genji disguises himself and visits the Rokujō Lady at her new house. He explains Aoi's illness and stays the night, but this does little to make the Rokujō Lady feel better. In the morning, Genji writes that Aoi is getting worse and he can't visit again. They exchange several poems in which the Rokujō lady laments that she's turning herself inside out for Genji, but Genji insists that his excuses aren't lies.
The choice to go in disguise indicates that visiting the Rokujō Lady isn't something that Genji should be doing right now, which may contribute to her belief that Genji is slighting her and is using her as a convenient diversion from his wife's illness.
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The Rokujō Lady hears rumors that her father's spirit may be the one possessing Aoi. Distraught, the Rokujō Lady thinks that she's never wished anyone ill. She wonders if her soul is possibly off wandering and thinks of the anger she's felt since Aoi insulted her, as well as dreams she has of shaking a beautiful rival lady. She fears that nobody will like her if this is true and vows to not think about Genji anymore.
When the Rokujō Lady starts to wonder if her soul is possessing Aoi, it shows clearly that the power of female jealousy isn't just theoretical—it truly does have the power to go out and make life miserable for other women, even without one’s conscious knowledge.
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Aoi goes into labor prematurely. Priests arrive to attempt to exorcise the evil spirit, but it won't move. Finally, Aoi calls for Genji. Everyone else leaves them alone as Genji looks at his wife. He takes her hand as she gazes at him and cries. He comforts her, and Aoi speaks—but in the voice of the Rokujō Lady. She tells Genji to bind the hem of her robe, a method of keeping a spirit at home. Genji is aghast. Princess Omiya returns with medicine and suddenly, Aoi gives birth to a baby boy (Yugiri). Aoi appears to be free of the spirits and for the next several days, the house celebrates the new baby.
The supernatural elements here recall the apparition that Genji saw on the pillow by the Lady of the Evening Faces. When considered together, this makes it clear that the Rokujō Lady is more overcome by jealousy than any of her peers. However, when she asks Genji to bind the hem of her robe, it does suggest that the Rokujō Lady doesn't necessarily want to be this way—instead, it implies that she's at the mercy of her runaway emotions.
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The Rokujō Lady has mixed feelings when she learns of this. Strangely, she finds that no matter how much she washes, her clothes smell like the poppy seeds that are burned at exorcisms. Genji remains horrified that he heard the Rokujō Lady speak to him through Aoi and he finally decides to send her a note, though he doesn't visit. Aoi's son, Yugiri, looks so much like Reizei that it makes Genji feel he must see the other boy. Before returning to court, he sits on the other side of her curtains and speaks to Aoi, but she's too weak to respond. He prepares medicine and as he goes behind her curtains, he admires her beauty and wonders why he's been so dissatisfied with her. Aoi watches him go.
It worth noting that in her illness, Aoi is also too weak to be sassy or belligerent with Genji, which could also be why he experiences this moment of regret—he's been very clear about the fact that he likes women who don't push back on his desires and are, instead, yielding and childlike.
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The Minister of the Left and Genji both leave for court. Not long after, a messenger arrives at court with the message that Aoi has died. The men wander aimlessly, and the minister decides to leave Aoi's body for a few days in case it's the work of the evil spirit and she might come back. She remains dead, however, and her funeral services go on through the night. Genji spends the night at Sanjō, wondering why he angered Aoi and let her die angry with him. He dresses in his gray mourning robes in the morning, recites a prayer, and holds Yugiri, glad that he has the baby to remember his wife by.
Aoi's death is telling, as she has been one of Genji's unhappiest lovers and a source of discontent for him throughout their marriage. Though he's able to think more generously now in his grief, it's worth thinking of Aoi as an obstacle that has now been removed from Genji's life. This suggests that the Rokujō Lady, who is similarly somewhat annoying for Genji to deal with, may also not survive to the end of the novel.
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Genji attempts to contact the Rokujō Lady, but she refuses to answer. Weeks later, Genji receives a letter from the lady offering condolences. It's a beautiful letter, but he fears it's disingenuous. He can't sort out his feelings about Aoi and the Rokujō Lady, but he finally replies and suggests they end their relationship, implying that he knows her spirit killed Aoi. The Rokujō Lady fears that she's irreparably damaged her reputation, but the narrator insists this isn't the case: her relationship with her daughter Akikonomu and her good taste make her very popular.
The disconnect here between what the Rokujō Lady thinks is most important to her reputation and what the narrator insists is most important reinforces again just how much women are forced to care about how their relationships with men influence their public images, as she clearly believes her convoluted relationship to Aoi via Genji means more publically than does her relationship to her daughter.
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Genji stays in seclusion for seven weeks, though Tō no Chūjō visits often. They laugh about Naishi and cry sometimes. One evening, Tō no Chūjō finds Genji on the veranda, crying in the driving rain. It's clear that he's wracked with grief. Tō no Chūjō finds this strange as Genji never seemed happy in his marriage, but decides this is proof that he did actually love Aoi. After Tō no Chūjō leaves, Genji sends flowers to Princess Omiya about their "wild carnation," Yugiri.
As before, the rain on the veranda reflects just how sad Genji is about his wife's death. The addition of nature to Genji's grief is, notably, enough to convince Tō no Chūjō that Genji actually did love Aoi, which shows just how compelling these natural wonders can be.
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Genji composes a note to Princess Asagao telling her of his grief. She replies that she's looked for him in the "stormy autumn skies," and Genji feels that her handwriting suggests mysterious things. Genji thinks of how he wants to raise Murasaki to not be an "affected, overrefined" woman and then calls some of Aoi's women to keep him company. They're all sad because they believe that he'll leave them soon, but he promises to take care of them.
Genji's conversation with Aoi's serving women illustrates the power imbalance between men and women very clearly: the serving women have no reason to believe Genji if they go off of how he treated Aoi, and yet their future and wellbeing depend on his decision to be kind and follow through on his promise to take care of them.
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After his time in seclusion, Genji returns to court. He leaves notes for Princess Omiya and says goodbye to the Minister of the Left in person. The Minister asks Genji to tell the Emperor that he's still too sad visit, and Genji agrees. The Minister then says that he believes Genji will come back because of Yugiri, regardless of what the women believe. Genji promises to take care of everyone at the house and then leaves. After he does, the Minister goes inside and looks at some of Genji's practice calligraphy. He reads Genji's sad poems and then goes to his wife. The Minister sadly laments that Genji's absence means he misses Aoi even more. The entire household weeps.
When the Minister of the Left says that Genji will return to the Sanjō mansion because of Yugiri, it shows that he believes that the relationship between father and son is one that's far more reliable than that between lovers or even husband and wife. This is another way that the novel suggests that the parent-child relationship is strong and can be used for ulterior motives, as the Minister is clearly prepared to use it to get to see more of Genji.
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Genji visits the Emperor at the palace and then calls on Fujitsubo. She sends out condolences through Omyōbu. Genji then visits Murasaki and tells her that now she'll surely get bored of him. He spends days thinking of Yugiri and Murasaki, thinking she's no longer too young for marriage. He can't help himself, and Murasaki's attendants have no way of knowing that the line has been crossed. One morning, Murasaki remains in bed. Later, Genji pushes a note behind her curtains saying that they've spent many nights together "purposelessly," separated by covers. Murasaki feels foolish for not understanding that sex had been his intention and thinks that Genji is disgusting.
Murasaki's sense of betrayal again shows just how important the parent-child relationship is, particularly to a child—she wouldn't feel so betrayed had Genji not taken it upon himself to act as her father until she was old enough to have sex. It's also important to pay attention to the fact that while Murasaki is upset, there's no indication that she has any power to stand up to Genji and tell him she doesn't want to be his lover. In other words, she's stuck going through with his wishes.
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Genji returns at noon and invites Murasaki to play a game, but she pulls the covers over her head and refuses. Her ladies leave them alone as Genji reprimands her for being rude. He discovers that she's crying under the covers and agrees to leave her alone. In the evening, Genji and Murasaki eat the traditional wedding sweets and after, he and Koremitsu make oblique references to consummating the marriage. Genji feels like a "child thief" and is very amused, feeling as though he couldn't love Murasaki more. Koremitsu stealthily sneaks Murasaki the next box of wedding sweets and in the morning, Murasaki's women are overcome with joy that Genji followed through on his promise. Over the next few weeks, Genji spends little time away from Murasaki.
When Genji is delighted to think of himself as a child thief, it indicates that his understanding of the parent-child relationship is definitely warped and damaged. His inability to draw lines in appropriate places opens him up to later abuse his relationships with his biological children and use them to angle for his own gain, whether that's a sexual gain or a gain in power. The happiness that Murasaki's attendants feel shows again that as awful as this is for Murasaki, they're going to benefit from her sexual relationship with Genji.
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It comes to Kokiden's attention that her sister Oborozukiyo seems to be pining for Genji. The Minister of the Right isn't particularly upset about this since Genji's attentions are clearly elsewhere, but Kokiden suggests that Oborozukiyo must go to court. Genji is sad to hear this, but he resolves to remain true to Murasaki. He thinks too of the Rokujō Lady and thinks that if she's willing to continue seeing him, they may be able to be fine companions. Finally, Genji performs the initiation ceremonies for Murasaki. She feels betrayed and refuses to look at him, which he finds simultaneously sad and interesting.
Again, Genji's assessment of Murasaki's reaction to sex with him shows that he doesn't understand how he's abused her trust or how powerless she is in this whole situation. This reinforces that he sees her as little more than a toy to play with, even though she's now passed over into adult territory and, in theory, should be able to act more like an adult and stand up for herself.
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On New Year's Day, Genji visits the Emperor and then goes to see the Minister of the Left. He's thrilled to see Yugiri. Princess Omiya sends a note with New Year robes for Genji and he dutifully changes into them. They exchange notes grieving for Aoi but recognize that the new year should bring renewal.
When Princess Omiya and Genji recognize that the new year should bring renewal but still feel sad, it opens up the novel's logic to more nuance: while the cycles and seasons certainly do dictate how life should be lived, there is room for some disconnect.
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