Onequestion that many ask themselves is that of what true beauty is. The novelMemoirs of a Geisha, written by Arthur Golden, has a strong theme, whichreflects on the perception of beauty that recurs throughout the story and thatis, beauty cannot be judged fairly. This is portrayed throughout the novelprimarily because geisha typically achieve a higher status than others due totheir artificial beauty, many only acknowledge the geisha’s façade rather than whomthey truly are, as well as false beauty being the main focus of a geisha, whichcreates bias.
The basis of the theme thrives from the poetic visions thatflow from the eyes of the primary character, Sayuri. Sayuri finds beauty ineverything, even the smallest things like the way a snowflake falls toward theground. As shown, the question of what beauty is to Sayuri is epitomizedthrough nature.
Repetitive imagery is used to as well drive the theme of beautyand the unfairness that originates through judgement. Throughout the novel, it isknown that Geisha typically achieve a higher status than others due to theirartificial beauty and not their true beauty. Many are unable to see what isbehind the false beauty that geisha present. This is especially brought outthrough the main antagonist, Hatsumomo. The portrayal of her character changesuntil her eventual downfall caused by her wrath and jealousy towards Sayuri.
However, Sayuri always perceived her as being the most beautiful person in theworld, despite how much she truly despised Hatsumomo. “A tree may look asbeautiful as ever; but when you notice the insects infesting it, and the tipsof the branches that are brown from disease, even the trunk seems to lose someof its magnificence” (Golden, 324). This quote demonstrates how thedeterioration of Hatsumomo’s character and career was brought on by her schemesagainst Sayuri, which truly displayed the internal ugliness within her. Sayurisees beauty epitomised through the medium of nature; however, others take itsraw beauty for granted. Many do not take the precious time they have in theirlives in order to soak in all the splendour that is the planet’s naturalbeauty. Next, Sayuri uses imagery of a pistol to compare it to Hatsumomo whenan officer brings it out in front of her.
Sayuri states, “An officer took outhis pistol and laid it on the straw mat to impress me. I remember being struckby its beauty. The metal had a dull gray sheen; its curves were perfect andsmooth. The oiled wood handle was richly grained. But when I thought of itsreal purpose as I listened to his stories, it ceased to be beautiful at all andbecame something monstrous instead. This is exactly what happened to Hatsumomoin my eyes after she brought my debut to a standstill” (182). A pistol looksbeautiful on the outside and is made out of rich and fine material, like ageisha, like Hatsumomo, who looks beautiful and uses rich materials in order toattain their beauty.
The pistol looks perfect to anyone, however, it is usedfor cruel intentions against others, which is what as well applies toHatsumomo, who is very beautiful as a geisha, but has wicked intentions towardsothers she is displeased of. Many do not see past the façadeof a geisha’s face to respect who they truly are. Sayuri always saw her rival,Hatsumomo, as being the most beautiful person in the world because of hermake-up and embroidered kimonos. Sayuri felt that the only way to emulateHatsumomo’s beauty was to become a geisha. For instance, when she wasintroduced into the geisha culture, Sayuri thought, “I had the feeling Imight drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty itself struck me as a kind ofpainful melancholy” (187). On the contrary, during World War II, Sayuriwas so poor that she could not afford to wear her exquisite kimonos; she had tosettle on wearing what was considered “peasant clothes”.
Sayuri feltnaked in them, as these plain clothes had no way of showing other people thatshe was a geisha. “If you no longer have leaves, or bark, or roots, canyou go on calling yourself a tree? I am a peasant and not a geisha anylonger” (350). This quote uses the imagery of nature to go against thesaid theme of how beauty is not just external.
This is because Sayuri was sodependent on her false identity as a geisha, she didn’t want it noticed becauseshe was afraid of losing all of the things that make her happy. To a geisha beauty is onlyabout artifice and concealment rather than the truth. Geisha conceal themselvesin order to be judged with bias, because she’s a geisha and is typically highlyregarded because of their artificial elements that are considered “beautiful”by standard. This creates bias towards normal women and geisha, as a geisha’stop priority is their beauty due to believing that it is all people want. Thesame happens with Sayuri, as beauty becomes her top priority within her time asa geisha.
“In the years since, I’ve been called beautiful more often than I canremember. Though, of course, geisha are always called beautiful, even those whoaren’t. But when Mr. Tanaka said it to me, before I’d ever heard of such athing as a geisha, I could almost believe it was true”(73).
At an early age,Sayuri believed that compliments on her physical appearance were genuine,however, after being complimented so many times on her false beauty, she endsup making her physical appearance to others her main priority above anythingelse about her. This leads to Sayuri’s demise, as she starts to believe thatnobody would truly love her for who she is behind her disguise until she meetsthe chairmain, who sees beyond her false beauty. Next, Nobu, hen Nobu isparting from Sayuri, he states that she will remind him that beauty is not theonly thing that defines one. Nobu states, “I don’t know when we will see eachother again or what the world will be like when we do. We may both have seenmany horrible things.
But I will think of you every time I need to be remindedthat there is beauty and goodness in the world” (348). Thanks to Sayuri, Nobuis one of the few that are able to see the good and bad of a geisha rather thanjust the shell that is defined by their beauty. Sayuri was able to break thestereotype and demonstrate that a geisha (or anyone) cannot be judged fairlybased on looks and stereotypes, as they can be someone truly unique on theinside. Sayuri concludes that people can be considered attractive to otherseven if they aren’t in her eyes.
“It struck me as odd that even though no onecould have called her a beauty, Mr. Tanaka’s eyes were fixed on her like a ragon a hook” (78). Sayuri realizes that to her, some geisha aren’t pretty.They’re simply pretty because of all the makeup, which shows that the allure ofthe geisha is in the general mystique, not necessarily in the individualattractiveness of the geisha.
Near the story’s conclusion,Sayuri realises that all her success as a geisha was thanks to the Chairman, aswas a man who saw how beautiful a woman Sayuri was even when she was a wornmaid working for Hatsumomo. The message portrayed through this realisationgranted Sayuri to truly grasp at the theme of how beauty can be seen beneaththe front one could make for them. Imagery used in Memoirs of aGeisha captures the raw essence of true beauty that is seen in the nature ofthe world. It is used to relate to the fact that beauty cannot be judgedfairly.
Throughout the novel, geisha are typically favoured for their artificialbeauty, geisha as well, use façades on their faces which causes many to viewthem based on their false looks rather than who they truly are and a geisha’smindset primary focus on false beauty and concealment rather than who theytruly are. The imagery used coincides with what the author and Sayuri interpretas what true beauty is. The novel proves that the moving splendor of nature iscapable of rousing the internal consideration within the reader as to how theyshould appreciate the truth and real beauty, and should not take any of thesefor granted.