Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393

As a traditional bunraku, or large puppet, play, The Love Suicides is concerned with topics typical of Japanese theater in the 1700s. Among these subjects are the nature of true love, loyalty between friends, and the dangers of corruption. The protagonists, despite their different class backgrounds, are similar in...

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As a traditional bunraku, or large puppet, play, The Love Suicides is concerned with topics typical of Japanese theater in the 1700s. Among these subjects are the nature of true love, loyalty between friends, and the dangers of corruption. The protagonists, despite their different class backgrounds, are similar in being subordinate to older, powerful men and thus having little control over their own future lives. Despite their best efforts to behave honorably and remain steadfast in their love, the couple cannot see a positive way out of the problems that ensnare them. The combination of true love and honor pushes them to decide to end their lives, thus joined finally in death.

Because Tokubei occupies a lowly position in his uncle’s company, he owes dual loyalty to him both as an older male relative and as his employer. While his own aspirations are modest, the uncle and his wife have a plan to help the young man move up the social ladder as well as keep the family wealth under their control. Tokubei understands the advantages of the proposed arranged marriage to the aunt’s niece, but he chafes at being a pawn in their social schemes. At the same time, he has lost his heart to Ohatsu, a lovely geisha. While the audience sees Tokubei’s struggles to behave honorably, they also observe the strongly contrasting, dishonorable behavior of his friend, Kuheiji.

After wrestling with his conscience, Tokubei refuses the proposed marriage to the niece, only to discover that the dowry money is compromised. The plot complications around the characters’ borrowing and lending of the dowry—which the aunt has already spent—would likely have been familiar to the audience. The young woman, even more than her intended groom, becomes a pawn in the older adults’ machinations.

The systemic corruption also affects the younger generation; Kuheiji not only takes advantage of Tokubei and lies about owing him money, but frames his generous friend and thus effectively makes him an outlaw. Honesty has not helped the young lover; he must face the fact that he is ruined. Although Ohatsu is a courtesan, she too behaves honorably. Rather than forsake her true love, she shields him from the law. The contrast between right behavior and a corrupt social system, including abuses of the law, is thereby confirmed in their choice of double suicide.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 203

Ikutama Shrine

Ikutama Shrine (ih-kew-tah-mah). Place where Tokubei meets the courtesan Ohatsu by chance while making deliveries to his customers. According to legend, the shrine’s origin dates back to when Emperor Jinmu arrived in Osaka and built the shrine. Even after the Tokugawa period, the government protected the shrine’s extensive grounds and magnificent architecture. It is said to have been popular with worshipers and regarded as one of the grand Shinto shrines in Japan.

Temma House

Temma House (teh-muh). Brothel in which Ohatsu works. Located in a disreputable neighborhood, the house is purposefully inconspicuous in architecture in order to keep its patrons anonymous. Tokubei and Ohatsu hold each other and cry under the porch of the house, and Tokubei tells her that the only option left for him is suicide.

Sonezaki Wood

Sonezaki Wood (soh-neh-zah-kee). On their journey to Sonezaki Wood, Tokubei and Ohatsu speak of their love, and a lyrical passage spoken by the narrator comments on the transience of life. The surrounding woods are lonely and deserted and leading to their graveyard. Tokubei apologizes to his uncle, and Ohatsu to her parents, for the trouble they are causing. Chanting an invocation to Buddha, Tokubei stabs Ohatsu and then himself.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 277

Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Major Plays of Chikamatsu. Translated by Donald Keene. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961. Pages 1 to 38 provide biographical and social background on Chikamatsu and deal with such issues as the structure of the plays and moral issues involved.

Gerstle, C. Andrew. Circles of Fantasy: Convention in the Plays of Chikamatsu. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Pages 113 to 129 provide a brief synopsis and history of the play, then turn to a discussion of the love-suicide as a dramatic form. Includes a detailed analysis of the structure and dynamics of the play, especially the michiyuki, or final journey to death.

Kato, Shuichi. The Years of Isolation. Vol. 2 in A History of Japanese Literature. Translated by David Chibbet. New York: Kodansha International, 1983. Pages 85 to 93 deal with the contrast between the celebration of the lover’s death and the celebration of the warrior’s death in Japanese literature. Examines the michiyuki scene in the play.

Keene, Donald. World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976. Pages 244 to 274 place the play in the context of the author’s entire oeuvre. Points out the importance of the themes of love and money, which provide the tension that drives the play. He also discusses the themes of giri (obligation) and ninjo (human feeling) that provide dramatic conflict.

Kirkwood, Kenneth P. Renaissance in Japan: A Cultural Survey of the Seventeenth Century. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle, 1970. Pages 224 to 312 include a biographical sketch of the author and a discussion of specific works by him. Covers the historical event that provided the basis for the play and a discussion of the phenomenon of lovers’ suicides in Japanese literature.

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