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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484

Much of Masks deals with the subject of shamanism, the alleged ability of individuals to be in direct contact with the spirit world. Mieko, the central female character in the story, has just read a paper on the subject to an academic gathering, and the following quote registers the reactions...

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Much of Masks deals with the subject of shamanism, the alleged ability of individuals to be in direct contact with the spirit world. Mieko, the central female character in the story, has just read a paper on the subject to an academic gathering, and the following quote registers the reactions of Ibuki, the literature professor who is the principal male protagonist:

From his readings in the History of Japanese Shamanesses and elsewhere, he was familiar with the idea that the ancient Yamato tribe might have brought Ural-Altaic forms of shamanism to Japan.

In her paper, which also deals with the medieval literary work The Tale of Genji, Mieko focuses on one of the characters in Genji, the Lady Rokujo, and seems to identify with her. This is a key element in the plot of Masks, since Mieko eventually tries to recreate in herself the Lady Rokujo's spirit and behavior. Ibuki observes of Mieko:

[She] seemed a trifle overdefensive of the Rokujo lady, rather like a loyal sister.

Mieko later, through an elaborate ruse, manipulates Ibuki into unknowingly sleeping with her mentally-challenged adult daughter Harumé. Mieko's feelings as she puts this plan into action are described:

Her expression was calm and unflickering as always, but beneath the chill weight of her sagging breasts her heart raced in a mad elvish dance, while from hips to thighs a powerful tension enveloped her, anchoring her to the floor.

Harumé's nursemaid, Yu, realizing that Harume is pregnant but not yet understanding the specifics that have transpired, makes the following observation:

While certainly not a moron, Harumé was nevertheless very far from being a responsible adult, however charitably one looked upon her. A man who would force himself on someone so helpless epitomized evil in Yu's mind. To imagine Harumé bearing the child of such a monster made her quite beside herself.

Later, in reviewing what has happened, Ibuki's friend Mikamé makes a predictably male chauvinistic statement:

A man may try as hard as he likes, but he'll never know what schemes a woman may be slowly and quietly carrying out behind his back.

And yet Mieko herself, in reflecting upon her own behavior and the desire for revenge that has motivated it, observes that

A woman's love is quick to turn into a passion for revenge—an obsession that becomes an endless river of blood, flowing on from generation to generation.

These quotes, of course, need to be understood in the context of Fumiko Ueda's complex story, which spans the generations before and after World War II, in the aftermath of which major changes began to take place in the status of women in Japan (and the world). In Masks,the characters are individuals but, as the title suggests, are also emblems or prototypes of both traditional and newly-emerging mentalities regarding the relations between men and women.

All quotations are from the 1983 translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter.

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