Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this work, as in many of her stories and novels, the author explores the situation of women in the modern world. Here, she puzzles over the motives and feelings that have led Rie to devote herself to an older and mentally deficient man who has been abusive to her. In her own mind the narrator finds Rie’s choice absurd, yet each time the narrator comes to this conclusion, there is a redeeming consideration. When Kurokawa tells his father’s story, both the narrator and Kurokawa are appalled at Rie’s fate, yet Kurokawa then goes on to depict Rie as a model wife who has won the respect of all the local people. Similarly, when the narrator recalls the experience of the psychiatric interns, she is disbelieving that anyone would put herself into such a physically and emotionally outrageous position. At precisely this point, the reader learns that Dr. Kashimura asked Rie to marry him and she refused, so one knows that she was not desperately seeking some means of escape. She has chosen to live this way and makes herself an example of virtuous behavior; she truly becomes transfigured into the goddess of mercy, as Kurokawa’s father saw her. In the end, the reader is left with the narrator to ponder Rie’s fate and the manner in which she has chosen to come to terms with it. Just as the narrator has to resign herself to taking a slow train and chooses to see it as a luxurious way to travel with all those fresh chrysanthemums, so too, perhaps, has Rie accepted her fate and transformed it into a life of virtue and beauty.