The principal theme of Memoirs of a Geisha is the idea that life, although dictated by destiny, may yet remain malleable to the forces of individual determination. Self-determination is also the moving force by which a seemingly tragic turn of events unwittingly sets the stage for other, broader horizons.
Sayuri begins her tale by stating that she "wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha." Her path to becoming a geisha is compared to that of "making tea in a bucket," it at first seems so improbable. Sayuri initially queries the reader with the question:
suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea . . . and I said to you 'that afternoon when I met so-and-so . . . was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon' . . . the truth is that the afternoon I met Mr. Tanaka Ichiro really was the best and the worst of my life . . . [for] if I had never known him, I'm sure I would not have become a geisha.
In that statement, we see that Sayuri's path to becoming a celebrated Geisha was in part dictated by the hand of fate, which left her bereft of her parents and thrust her into the larger world of Gion. Yet inherent in Sayuri's transformation is not only the hand of fate, but also the very determined steps of Sayuri herself, as she continually reinvents herself in order to achieve a measure of independence and control over her life.
Although Sayuri at first rebels against her new fate in Gion, she soon realizes that the dreams of her past cannot help her present nor her future. After mourning the loss of her parents, she realizes that "[although Mr....
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