Why do the husband, the wife, and the thief all claim to have done the stabbing in the story "In a Grove"?

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Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove" is told from the perspective of seven different characters, three of whom claim to have committed the same murder (or, in the final case, suicide).

A woodcutter testifies that he found a corpse in the forest surrounded by signs of a...

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Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove" is told from the perspective of seven different characters, three of whom claim to have committed the same murder (or, in the final case, suicide).

A woodcutter testifies that he found a corpse in the forest surrounded by signs of a violent struggle but with no obvious murder weapon.

A Buddhist priest says he met a man and woman traveling together the day before the murder. The man was armed with a sword and a bow and arrows.

3. A bounty hunter has captured a criminal called Tajomaru, who was carrying weapons (a bow and arrows) that did not belong to him.

An old woman says that her daughter, Masago, has disappeared along with her husband, Takehiro. She begs the police to find them.

Tajomaru says that he met Takehiro and Masago on the road and decided to rape Masago. He lured Takehiro into the woods, stuffed his mouth with leaves, and tied him to a tree. When Masago saw her husband tied to the tree, she tried to stab Tajomaru, but he overcame her and raped her. Masago begged him to kill either her husband or himself, as she could not live with the shame of being known by two men. Tajomaru fought a duel with Takehiro and Masago ran away. Tajomaru killed the other man and took his sword, bow, and arrows. He sold the sword before he was captured.

Masago says that, after the rape, Tajomaru ran off. Her husband, still tied to the tree, looked at her with great bitterness. She no longer wanted to live, but she preferred him to die with her, so she plunged her dagger into his chest. She then attempted to kill herself many times but her spirit was too strong to die.

Finally, the ghost of Takehiro speaks through a medium. He says that Tajomaru persuaded Masago to leave her husband and become his wife, which she agreed to do if he would kill Takehiro. Tajomaru was angry at this suggestion, kicked her to the ground, and asked Takehiro if he should kill the dishonorable woman. Masago fled into the forest and Tajomaru cut Takehiro's bonds and ran away. Takehiro grabbed Masago's fallen dagger and stabbed himself.

Clearly, all the accounts cannot be true. All seven characters say at least one thing which is contradicted by another. It is possible that each of the last three characters is describing the way in which they wish they had behaved, but ultimately it is for the reader to decide or to reject the possibility of determining objective truth from conflicting accounts.

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