“He had little choice of means, whether fair or foul, because of his helpless circumstances. If he chose honest means, he would undoubtedly starve to death beside the wall or in the Sujaki gutter. He would be brought to this gate and thrown away like a stray dog. If he decided to steal…his mind, after making the same detour time and again, came finally to the conclusion that he would be a thief.”
The servant whom this paragraph describes has been dismissed because of the declining economy. He waits under the Roshomon gate for the rain to cease and ponders his circumstances. Should he be honest and die? Or should he be a thief and live? He seems to feel that these are the only two choices available to him.
When he sees a light go on above him, he discovers an old hag pulling out the hair of a corpse, beautiful hair that she plans to make into a wig which can be sold for food. Is she a thief?
Does it matter if we take from a person who is alive or dead? In the taking are we automatically categorized as a thief?
He is filled with hatred, and yet he decides that if the old woman can take from the corpse, who sold snake flesh as dried fish while living, he can take from her.
When the hag looks for him through the gray locks of her hair, all she can see is darkness. It seems to be the darkness of hopelessness; an endless circle of using another for one’s own good.
“The Rashomon was the largest gate in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. It was 106 feet wide and 26 feet deep, and was topped with a ridge pole; it’s stone -wall rose 75 feet high. This gate was constructed in 789 when the capital of Japan was transferred to Kyoto. With the decline of West Kyoto, the gate fell into bad repair, cracking and crumbling in many places, and became a hideout for thieves and robbers and a place for abandoning unclaimed corpses.” (Tuttle edition)
I read this story for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8 and the Deal Me In short story challenge.
8 thoughts on “Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa”
I haven't read this one, yet, but I just finished my (short) review for Beauty and Sadness, which will appear tomorrow. I know Kawabata is for November, but I am such a rebel :))
Ally,mothers are no rules, and if there were I'd have surely broken one already: Akutagawa is August's author. I've just been enjoying his collection of short stories this summer. Off to see your thoughts on Kawabata, friend.
I have this collection on my reading list. I didn't realize this story was so dark! Luckily, I like dark stories, so your review just makes me want to read it more.
Yikes! I meant “there” not “mothers” which my iPad supplied.
Yes, it is dark. But only in the light of casting a shadow on our human condition…so often we are able too justify our actions if they help ourselves.
Read this a few years ago as part of a collection with an intro from Haruki Murakami. Thoroughly enjoyed it
Akutagawa's stories are so short they just seem to end, and I'm left thinking, “Wait a minute!” Then I go over all he's said for days. I would love to read Murakami's take on this one.
This is the book http://parrishlantern.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/ryunosuke-akutagawa_22.html should you ever come across it.