The Ideal Man and Woman in The Tale of Genji Essay

The Ideal Man and Woman in The Tale of Genji Essay

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Similar to current male views of the perfect women, the ideals in the Heian period were various depending on the man. However, with that being said, there are still common features that each man’s “perfect woman” shares. In the tale of Genji, the author Murasaki Shikibu dedicates almost a whole chapter to a conversation between four men, including the famous Genji, about their ideal woman.
Tō no Chūjō, a Guards Captain in the tale describes that even a seemingly perfect woman could be a disappointment. That so-called promising woman would be able to “write with a flowing hand, give you back a perfectly acceptable poem, and all in all do credit enough to the rank they have to uphold”(pg. 20). The disappointment would be that even though she could do all the socially expected norms of a proper lady, she is often “all too pleased with her own accomplishments, runs others down, and so on” (pg. 20). Therefore, her physical abilities and attributes are attractive, but her personality is not, thus tainting her perfection. In the Heian period, it was not just about the looks, in fact, it was more about the skills and personality of the woman that determined whether she was ideal or not.
He then explains that a girl who is loved and sheltered by her parents has to be, in a way, sold by her parents to other men by boasting about their daughters good points. She often just does as she is told and learns “a pastime she has seen others enjoy” (pg. 20). In other words, she is not her true self and is instead a mere copy of an acceptable woman.
Overall, Tō no Chūjō declared that “when a girl is highborn, everyone pampers her and a lot about her remains hidden, so that she naturally seems a paragon. Those of middle birth are the ones amon...

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...s to serve her husband like the Chief Equerry prefers, or the middle-class, easily understandable woman like Tō no Chūjō prefers, or the lady that is well-educated, creative and rich like the majority in the Heian period preferred.
On the other hand, the perfect Heian man who is gifted in various arts such as poetry, painting, playing musical instruments is not always considered the “ideal man” in this society. In fact, most of the artists in recent times, unfortunately, are not very successful unless they really stand out among the crowd. If Genji would have lived in the twenty-first century, it would be a wonder if he would even make it very far because he would no longer be thought of as the ideal and would just fade into the massive crowds of today’s society.

Works Cited

Murasaki, Shikibu, and Royall Tyler. The Tale of Genji. New York: Penguin Group, 2001.

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