The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji Suma Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Genji feels as though his life is an endless stream of unhappiness. He deliberates about removing himself from court life to the Suma coast, and his indecision drives his servers mad. He knows that the time apart would hurt Murasaki, but he understands that taking her would be inappropriate. Genji also worries about the Lady of the Orange Blossoms; he doesn't visit her often, but he is her only visitor. Fujitsubo also begins to write him, worried about rumors. Finally, at the end of March, Genji decides to leave the city.
Genji's understanding that exile is the only way to recover from the consequences of being caught with Oborozukiyo shows that women aren't actually the only ones who can be punished for inappropriate sexual behavior. Further, Fujitsubo's worried letters show that Genji being on the outs means that all of his other women are also affected, reinforcing that Genji has a lot of responsibility when it comes to his lovers.
Themes
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Genji visits the Minister of the Left. All the women of the house gather with Yugiri to look at Genji. The Minister of the Left expresses displeasure about the rumors concerning Genji, but Genji accepts responsibility for what happened, insisting that exile is the only way to fix things. The two men reminisce and cry as Yugiri plays among them. Genji and Tō no Chūjō drink until late and then, Genji spends the night with one of Aoi's former serving women. In the morning, Genji makes a note of the cherry blossoms past their prime and receives a message from Princess Omiya. She apologizes for not saying goodbye in person. The women all assemble to say goodbye to Genji before he returns briefly to his mansion.
Despite this being a sad time for everyone involved, when Genji notices the cherry blossoms it offers hope that his time in Suma won't actually be all that bad—it may even be able to be a time of rebirth for him. However, the fact that the blossoms are past their prime may be an allusion to Genji himself and the fact that he's getting older and can no longer get away with his youthful sexual shenanigans anymore.
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The women at the mansion are all awake and crying. Genji looks around and realizes that all of the beauty of the mansion will crumble in his absence. He goes to visit Murasaki and explains why he spent the night away from her. She's upset; Prince Hyōbu and his wife have fallen into line with the current regime, so she long ago decided to cut contact with them. Murasaki is even more upset when Genji insists that he cannot take her with him into exile. As Genji dresses, he looks in the mirror and comforts Murasaki with a poem, promising her that his reflection will remain in the mirror with her while he's gone.
Again, Genji's ability to recognize that the mansion itself and the women in it will suffer in his absence shows that he's beginning to understand the many ways that he's solely responsible for the women he interacts with, whether they're lovers or serving women employed by his lovers. In turn, this illustrates how women are dependent on the powerful men around them.
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Because Genji keeps getting notes from Reikeiden and the Lady of the Orange Blossoms, he decides to spend one final night with the ladies. The narrator notes that the two women are entirely dependent on Genji's attention, and Genji realizes how sad they'll be when he's gone. After visiting with Reikeiden, he talks with the Lady of the Orange Blossoms until dawn. Genji assures her that he'll be back and encourages her to not dwell on the bad times.
The simple fact that Genji recognizes his responsibility to Reikeiden and the Lady of the Orange Blossoms and takes steps to make them feel somewhat more secure suggests again that Genji is growing up and becoming more mature in this difficult time.
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Related Quotes
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After this, Genji heads home and delegates the household affairs to trusted men, packs a few things he'll need, and assigns all the women to Murasaki's wing of the house. He sends parting notes and gifts to his lovers, including Oborozukiyo, who writes back that she's crying about all of this as well.
For Oborozukiyo, it's possible that she's suffering even more than Genji is, given that she has to live with Kokiden and the Minister of the Right. The fact that the narration never says either way focuses the narration on Genji.
Themes
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The night before Genji leaves, he visits the Emperor's grave and but stops in first to see Fujitsubo. They discuss their worries about Reizei and Genji refrains from bringing up old complaints. The nighttime ride to the grave is subdued, and Genji notices that the path to the grave is overgrown. He thinks he sees the Emperor standing there. At daybreak, Genji sends a farewell message with a cherry branch to Reizei. The prince asks Omyōbu to send back a note that he'll be very sad that his father is gone. Omyōbu feels as though the prince, Fujitsubo, and Genji should've lived tranquil lives, and she feels responsible for messing it all up. With Reizei's note, she includes one of her own assuring Genji that he'll return to a "city of flowers."
As has been the case previously, the overgrown brush around the Emperor's grave implies that his legacy is being tainted by those at court and shows that sadness grips the court now that the Emperor is gone. Totally opposite this, the cherry branch that Genji sends to Reizei acts as a way for him to tell his son to remain hopeful despite his absence, and Omyōbu's assurance that Genji will return to a city of flowers works in much the same way. Together, they show how poetry and nature allow people to maintain a sense of hope.
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Genji spends the day with Murasaki and at nightfall, he asks her to see him off. He feigns pleasantness as they say goodbye and thinks she looks extremely beautiful in her sadness and the moonlight. He thinks of her all the way to Suma. Genji feels utterly lost when he sees the ruins and the desolation at Suma. His attendant Yoshikiyo oversees the remodel of Genji’s house in the. mountains, however, and soon it feels like a home. The only reason Genji remembers he's in exile is because he has nobody to talk to.
It's worth keeping in mind that with Genji gone, Murasaki may find herself especially vulnerable to other men's advances—and possibly, those from the other side of the political aisle. It's also possible that because of the convoluted and unhealthy nature of her relationship with Genji, she may also be unable to discern what a man's intentions are, making her even more vulnerable to manipulation.
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As the seasons pass, Genji thinks often of Murasaki, Reizei, and Yugiri. He sends letters to Murasaki, Fujitsubo, and Oborozukiyo. In her grief and loneliness, Murasaki takes to her bed, making her serving women fear that she might die. She does send supplies to Suma and thinks often of Genji. Fujitsubo spends her time worrying about Reizei and wondering if she effectively kept the gossips from discovering the relationship between her and Genji. Believing she was successful, she thinks fondly of Genji and sends affectionate replies to his letters. Oborozukiyo sends notes that tell Genji of her intense sadness, and Murasaki's poems are also extremely sad. Genji again thinks about bringing her to Suma, but turns to fasting, prayer, and meditation instead.
Fujitsubo's sense of fear and the fact that she feels able to respond to Genji because she believes she kept the gossips at bay again shows just how important one's reputation is at court. It's also important to note that were anyone to find out about Reizei's paternity, despite it not being Fujitsubo's fault (given that Genji raped her), Fujitsubo would pay the price, not Genji. This suggests that the social and political structure of the time punishes women more heftily than it does men.
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Genji even resumes correspondence with the Rokujō Lady. He's entranced by her calligraphy and her five-page letter, and thinks he was wrong to get so upset with her about Aoi's death. Genji laments to her that he didn't just go with her to Ise. He also receives comforting letters from the Lady of the Orange Blossoms and Reikeiden, and he sends friends in the city to make repairs to their house and garden.
Putting Genji's interest in the Rokujō Lady's handwriting right next to his decision to forgive her for Aoi's death shows just how powerful a well-written letter can be in Heian culture: it's enough to bring the lady back into Genji's good graces and possibly, restore some power to her.
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Oborozukiyo spends her days feeling upset. The Minister of the Right attempts to help her and the Suzaku Emperor forgives her for her offense in sleeping with Genji. They begin to see each other romantically, though Suzaku is annoyed that she seems caught up in pining for Genji. One evening, he fears he's gone against the Emperor's wishes to be good to Genji and will pay for it. He suggests he'd like to die and then expresses sadness that he and Oborozukiyo don't have children. Suzaku says he'd like to adopt Reizei, but fears doing so because of guaranteed objections from those in power.
Here, the Suzaku Emperor shows that he recognizes that one of the ways he can begin to take some power for himself is by having children, especially with powerful women. However, he also speaks in a way that suggests he sees Genji as a rival now, which shows that the women can cause strife between men too.
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When autumn arrives, Genji feels as though the ocean is right outside his window. One night, he weeps and plays the koto, but the music only makes him sadder. This wakes up his attendants, who all begin to cry with him. Genji realizes he has a responsibility to make this time easier for his attendants. He arranges games and activities during the day and paints for their amusement. Some of his paintings are exceptional. Genji's attendants feel as though they could never leave his service.
Genji's ability to influence his attendants' emotions and feelings about being in exile again shows how powerful he is, given that as far as the reader is aware, they only cry when he does. When he realizes that this is a difficult time for them and decides to do his best to make this time easier, it illustrates again how Genji is beginning to take responsibility for his actions.
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One evening, Genji admires the flowers in the garden and the coast in the distance. He recites a Buddhist sutra, and his men feel as though they've never heard a finer voice. They listen to fishermen singing and geese honking overhead. The geese inspire poems from Genji, Koremitsu, and Yoshikiyo about the power of friendship. They stare at the moon and Genji cries for Fujitsubo and the friendship he shared with Suzaku. He realizes he holds no ill will towards his half-brother.
As unfortunate as Genji's exile is, it's clearly doing Genji some good: remember that Koremitsu has spent a great deal of time annoyed with Genji and his antics, and it seems that being in exile has put a stop to the antics and encouraged Genji to think more maturely about his friendships and relationships.
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As the days go by, an assistant viceroy passes Suma by boat with his daughters. He has the Gosechi dancer with him, one of Genji's former lovers. The viceroy and Genji exchange letters and poems and Genji and the Gosechi dancer also write to each other about their love. She wishes she could stay in Suma.
The appearance of the Gosechi dancer shatters the illusion that Genji is actually taking this time to step away from romance and think about the consequences of his romantic life.
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Back in the city, everyone grieves Genji's exile. The Suzaku Emperor and Genji continue to exchange poems, which sends Kokiden into a fit of rage. After this, the letters stop. Murasaki remains unhappy, though serving women who once thought her simple decide that she's absolutely worthy of Genji's affections. Genji continues to think about bringing her to Suma but decides that "plebian life" is too dirty for her. Genji spends his winter playing music with Koremitsu and Yoshikiyo and thinks of Chinese literature telling of situations similar to his. He spends his nights in prayer, which impresses his men.
Genji's assessment of "plebian life" offers insight into how upper-class Heian courtiers view the lower classes and, in turn, shows how separated court life is from the lives of the people they govern. The focus on the dirtiness of lower-class life is one way that the narrator and Genji suggest that in their eyes, those who aren't at court or don't have money are, in some ways, less than human.
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Yoshikiyo remembers the Akashi lady, the daughter of the former governor, and writes to her. Her father replies and invites Yoshikiyo to visit. He refuses. The former governor, upon learning that Genji is in Suma, tells his wife that they must offer Genji the Akashi lady instead of marrying her to the "upstart" current governor. His wife thinks this is silly, especially given their daughter's country upbringing and the fact that Genji is in exile for a crime, but the former governor insists that Genji's only crime is being talented and the son of a woman who was disliked. The narrator notes that the Akashi Lady herself is no beauty but is sensitive, and she's decided to throw herself into the sea or become a nun if she has to marry someone of her class.
With the introduction of the Akashi Lady, the novel continues to expand its exploration of status and how different life situations influence this. Here, the novel reiterates the idea that one can only be properly upper class if one lives in the city, where a majority of court life takes place. Notably, the governor isn't entirely wrong about why Genji is in exile: he's still paying the price for his mother's popularity, and Kokiden's fears are certainly rooted in an understanding that many would rather have Genji as governor.
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As spring arrives in Suma, Genji looks at the blossoms on the cherry tree he planted and thinks of the festivals going on in the city. In the city, Tō no Chūjō has achieved the rank of counselor and is doing well, but he spends most of his time lamenting Genji's fate. Finally, he decides to visit. He finds Genji's house charming and thinks that Genji himself looks extremely handsome in his rustic robes. Tō no Chūjō chats with fishermen about their work and brings clothes and gifts. He and Genji laugh, cry, and compose poetry all night. As Tō no Chūjō leaves, he expresses hope that Genji will return to the city.
When Tō no Chūjō observes that Genji still manages to look surprisingly handsome in "rustic" robes, it's another way that the novel is able to show just how exceptional and special Genji is. This also hearkens back to the novel's insistence that one cannot be courtly if one doesn't actually live at court; Tō no Chūjō's visit and continued support leaves open the possibility for Genji to return to court and resume a position of power.
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In March, Genji decides to go down and look at the shore. He asks a soothsayer to perform prayers and cast a ceremonial doll out to sea. Genji is magnificent next to the sea and asks the gods to help him, as he's innocent of his crimes. Suddenly, a storm comes up out of nowhere. Everyone on the beach carefully makes their way back to the house. Genji calmly sits and recites prayers and eventually, the storm subsides. Genji falls asleep near dawn. The king of the sea comes to Genji in a dream and tells him the court is summoning him. Upon waking, Genji decides he can't stay at Suma any longer.
All of the elements of the natural world here appear to be in cahoots with Genji himself—it appears as though he almost calls the storm, and it also doesn't appear as though he's afraid of it. This conflates Genji with the natural world and suggests that the natural world will begin to act to right some of the perceived wrongs and, hopefully, restore Genji to glory back in the city.
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