Psychological Analysis of Rashomon

Essay add: 29-09-2015, 19:54   /   Views: 642
Psychological Analysis of Rashomon

Rashomon, by Ryunosaki Akutaguya provides great insight into the psychological discord that the Japanese culture was undergoing in the early part of the twentieth century. Japan was in the throes of a societal transformation, from a traditional, religious-based society, to a newly adopted weternized culture. Japan was rapidly assimilating industrial and scientific techniques and philosophies that were in conflict with, and were replacing traditional ways of life. Akutaguwa illustrates this with his opening two paragraphs where he shows the once proud and majestic Rashomon Gate, a religious monument, abandoned and in ruins. As we enter the story, it is raining, (symbolic of transformation or rebirth) and the author describes the city of Kyoto having undergone a series of calamities; earthquakes, fires and tornadoes which have left Kyoto in a state of decline. This image is put side by side with the Samurai’s servant, whose master, once prosperous, is wealthy no longer. The servant, therefore, has been discharged and is out on the street. Psychologically, the imagery of the first two paragraphs is important. The religious artifacts, once richly decorated with gold and silver, no longer proudly represent old Japan. The gold and silver has “worn off” and the statues, which themselves represent the collectivist mindset and values, are being chopped up and “sold” as firewood. This represents a westernized psychological mindset that everything is for sale, including the Japanese people’s once- idealized values. The Rashomon itself is now a repository for the Kyoto dead, symbolically, those who cannot adapt to the new psychology and values taking over Japan.

The current states of the city and the Rashomon Gate sets the stage for the servant’s internal psychological struggle. We meet the servant, his once fine clothes are now “worn thin” just like the the gold of the icons. Discharged from his master, he is lost in this new world. He has “no particular idea” of what to do. He realizes he faces a hard decision: to try to make an honest living and starve, or to become a theif and survive. Akutagawa very effectively illustrates the servant’s psychological dilemma with the line “He had little choice. His mind, after making the same detour time and again, finally came to the decision to be a thief.” We see the servants continuing struggle as, even after making the decision, he returns to re-examine it “many times.” Logically, the servant knows he must change; he must reject his old beliefs and adopt the new values. Pschologically, however, “he was still unable to muster enough courage to justify the conclusion that he must become a thief.” The word “courage” is particularly descriptive of the mental process the servant is going through. The “courage” to face the change, to do the opposite of what he believes, is very difficult and Akutagawa gives us the distinct impression that even though the servant has made the decision, he cannot follow through with the necessary actions because his old beliefs are just to strong and ingrained. We are, at this point wondering, if he will survive and how he will find the strength to do what needs to be done.

The servant seeks refuge from the storm in the symbol of the remnants of his old beliefs, the ruins of Rashomon Gate. Once inside, he discovers a light, a fire burning on one of the upper floors. Psychologically, this represents even more desecration of his old values as we get a sense that is sacrilegious to light a fire in the Rashomon. Akutagawa sets the rest of the story up very ingeniously as he shows the weakness of the servant who is naïve enough to believe that there are still unknowns and mysteries in the world. “The unknown, the evil terrified him.” The servant still has his beliefs, his wonder and superstitions. He is still a child.

Akutagawa begins the final psychological transformation of the servant and by representation, the Japanese culture. The servant investigates and discovers a ghoulish form, an old hag is the cause of the fire. He watches as she stares into the face of a dead woman. Then the hag begins removing the hair from the corpse. We see the servant go through a series of changes. At first, as he watches, he is horrified. Then he becomes curious as he watches the strange proceedings. Finally, as the ugly spectacle progresses, the servant grows angry. He has a consuming anger against all evil, a righteous indignation. He becomes very idealized, forgetting the decision he’d made moments earlier to become a thief. He would now, at this point, rather die than to succumb to committing an evil act. Empowered by his righteousness, his faith, he confidently confronts the unknown. His sword of righteousness will protect him from any evil. His appearance frightens the hag, and the servant, noble and just, only asks her to explain what she is doing and why. The old woman, terrified, tells all. “I pull out the hair to make a wig.” This is the most psychologically devastating thing she could’ve said to the servant. Akutagawa writes, “her answer banished all unknown from their encounter and brought disappointment.” All unknown is gone, all mystery of life is dissipated. He now faces reality for what it is. No longer is the servant a hero confronting evil, fighting a ghoul. No longer does his life have a higher meaning. The old beliefs, like the corpses, are dead.. The evil presence is nothing but an old hag who is simply trying to survive by making wigs from the corpses, just as the servant, and everyman, must cannibalize their beliefs for profit and survival. His old feelings, his beliefs, his wonder at life are replaced with a “cold contempt.”

The moment is one of self-awakening and psychological realization for the servant. As the woman recognizes the change in his demeanor, she justifies her actions. Outlining her reasons why the corpses deserve this indignity, the hag explains that the dead woman was a con-artist, who sold dried snake flesh as fish. The buyers liked the snake, believing the dead woman had “tastier fish” than anyone else. This indicates the psychological mind-set of the Japanese people and their willingness to overlook reality for a more favorable fiction. The old woman further explains that “what she (the dead girl) did couldn’t be wrong because if she hadn’t she would have starved to death. There was no other choice.” This indicates that at the time the old values where founded, they were necessary for the survival of society. The old woman further explains, “If she knew I had to do this in order to live, she wouldn’t care.” Akutagawa uses this device to show us the complete psychological transformation from the traditional eastern philosophy to the new westernized philosophy. We see this metamorphosis in the servant, as he goes from an idealistic believer to a cold realist. His transformation is complete. A “certain courage was born in his heart.” The courage, here of course is the replacement of his religious, collectivist, community-oriented values with the new western values of Individualism, self-determinism and to a large extent, the baser, instinctual needs of self-preservation at any cost. Akutagawa illustrates this as the servant uses the hags own logic against her and steals her clothes. The servant tells the hag, “Then it is right to rob you. I’d starve if I didn’t.” He takes the clothes and runs off into the darkness, leaving her naked and helpless in the ruins of the old world. Civilization, and man’s psychological mindset has come full circle, starting from jungle law, progressing to a world that valued higher, moral standards then back to a world that is ruled by the law of the jungle.

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