Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is divided into seven sections, each presenting a first-person point of view of one of the seven characters. The first four narrators are not directly involved in the crime, and the seven narrators are arranged in order of increasing involvement. The woodcutter, for example, is merely a witness and reports factual details and makes no judgments or inferences. The priest, who has seen the couple, does not know them personally but comments on the brevity of life and expresses pity for the victim. The arresting officer seems intent on proving that he has arrested the right man and jumps fallaciously to the conclusion that the thief’s possession of the victim’s bow and arrows is proof of his guilt. He has a vested interest in claiming the capture of this nefarious villain to boost his own professional reputation. The mother, the last of the indirectly involved characters, is concerned about the safety and whereabouts of her daughter and feels the need to defend her daughter’s reputation.

The last three narrators, the principal characters involved, are presented similarly in order of increasing subjectivity. The thief is involved in the crime, yet he feels no remorse for the acts he has confessed to or for his other past criminal deeds; nor does he betray any fear or regret at having been arrested, although he will surely be hanged. The wife, emotionally as well as physically involved in the event, nevertheless is alive. She has not only the murder to answer for, but also the accusations regarding her relationship with Tajomaru to deny. The concluding narrative, that of the victim himself, presents the point of view of the character most dramatically affected by the events described. Akutagawa uses overlapping details in the seven accounts to give some credibility to each of the three confessions. For example, Takehiro’s claim of suicide raises questions about the absence of the weapon, yet he recalls someone pulling the sword from his chest as he is dying. The priest’s description of the horse implicates Tajomaru.

Critics have noted that this story reveals the influence of Victorian poet Robert Browning’s dramatic monologues, particularly The Ring and the Book (1868-1869), which similarly presents twelve different accounts of a murder. “In a Grove,” along with Akutagawa’s story “Rashmon,” was the basis for the film Rashomon (1950) by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.