(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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....

(The entire section is 707 words.)


(Novels for Students)

From the time Tanaka brokers Sayuri and her sister away from their home, the theme of deception guides the course of events in the novel. While Tanaka’s deception is indirect (after all, he never actually tells young Sayuri what her future holds), Hatsumomo’s deception is overt. Hatsumomo not only lies about Sayuri, but she goes so far as to set her up to look guilty when she is innocent, as when she puts money into Sayuri’s obi before telling Mother that Sayuri sold some of her jewelry. Hatsumomo also makes empty promises so she can manipulate and dominate the young apprentice geisha.

As much as Sayuri resents so much deception in her life, the irony is that she takes on the profession of a geisha, which relies on deception. As a geisha, Sayuri assumes an identity other than her true one, she laughs at jokes that are not funny, and she learns to make a certain kind of blank face that men can believe means whatever they like. Her success depends on her ability to appear not as herself but as whomever her clients want her to be.

Deception is also depicted in the novel is in the way Sayuri outgrows her propensity for selfdeception. As an innocent young girl in Yoroido, she absolutely convinces herself that Tanaka will adopt her, her sister, and her father after her mother dies. It is an idea she embraces and then persuades herself is the truth, which only makes the heartbreak worse when it is not true. In Kyoto, she convinces herself that her sister has been taken to another okiya and that they will reunite at geisha school and escape together. She does not consider any other possibility, which again makes the reality all the harder to endure. As she ages, however, Sayuri learns the cynical ways of Gion as she learns more about herself. Although her fantasies about the Chairman seem like a regression to her childish ways of thinking, in the end, her dream comes true.

There are two levels of Sayuri’s metamorphosis depicted in Memoirs of a Geisha. The broader level is her journey from the fishing village of Yoroido to the heights of geisha success in Gion. Sayuri recalls, “I may have been no more than fourteen, but it seemed to me I’d lived two lives already. My new life was still beginning, though my old life had come to an end some time ago.” She also remarks, “I’ve heard it said that the week in which a young girl prepares for her debut as an apprentice geisha is like when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.” Golden symbolizes her metamorphosis from the...

(The entire section is 1050 words.)