Imagery Consistent with much Japanese art and literature, Memoirs of a Geisha includes a great deal of nature imagery. Traditionally, Japanese art features trees, insects, and bodies of water, just as poetry (most notably the haiku) often presents images from nature as metaphors for life’s lessons. Golden’s use of natural and Japanese imagery in Memoirs of a Geisha brings his fiction in line with this tradition and gives the novel a decidedly Japanese feel.
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Sayuri recalls a client who once mentioned her hometown of Yoroido, and she describes her feelings: “Well, I felt as a bird must feel when it has flown across the ocean and comes upon a creature that knows its nest. ” She also describes her mother’s succumbing to her illness with a simile that seems fitting for a Japanese fisherman’s daughter: “Just as seaweed is naturally soggy, you see, but turns brittle as it dries, my mother was giving up more and more of her essence. ” There are countless examples of Sayuri’s use of natural or Japanese images in her descriptions of her experiences and feelings.
That these are present in her memories of her early life as well as her more recent years indicates that this is a characteristic of her real self. Fairy Tale Memoirs of a Geisha fits the mold of a sort of fairy tale. Sayuri begins life in a poor fisherman’s family. She is content until her mother’s illness slowly and painfully takes its toll. Sayuri’s father, unable to care for his two daughters, sells them to a broker. Although the older daughter, Satsu, goes to a brothel, Sayuri goes to train as a geisha. As an adult, she is refined, educated, and beautiful.
She becomes, in the context of her world, a sort of princess after overcoming her humble beginnings. Sayuri’s fairy tale is complete with a wicked stepmother (Granny), a conniving nemesis (Hatsumomo), a Prince Charming to rescue her at the end (the Chairman), and a castle (the Waldorf Towers in New York City). Historical Fiction Historical fiction is serious fiction that recreates an era other than that in which it is written. For Memoirs of a Geisha, Golden relied heavily on his own research and background in Japanese art and culture and on his extensive interviews with an actual retired geisha.
He brings these historical details and truths to bear in a fictional account of a fictional person. Many historical novels depict cultures in conflict or cultures undergoing change, and this is certainly true of Memoirs of a Geisha. Interestingly, Golden also brings in another genre, the memoir. Although this memoir is fictional, it adheres to the traditional form of an actual memoir by using first person, concerning itself more with experiences and events than with deep introspection, and reflecting back over a long period of time.