The Sufferings of Female Characters in ‘Beauty and Sadness’

Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Beauty and Sadness focuses mainly around Oki, a man in his fifties, attempting to rekindle his love with thirty-year-old Otoko, his lover fifteen years prior. Otoko is now a painter, and she herself has a sixteen-year-old female lover named Keiko. Throughout the novel, the reader learns more about Oki and Otoko’s love affair and the effect it had on Oki’s wife Fumiko all while Taichiro, Oki’s son, begins his own love affair with Keiko. In Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Beauty and Sadness, these women are treated as objects for men to toy around with. Each woman in the novel is used and wounded emotionally by the men in the novel.

Fumiko, Oki’s wife, is unaware of Oki’s affair with Otoko until later on. She has already had a son, named Taichiro, and when discovering Oki’s affair, she becomes angry and often she is away from the house with her son, but “[e]ven so, Oki took advantage of his wife’s absence to go meet Otoko” (Kawabata 412). Fumiko is Oki’s wife, but he does not treat her as one. Marriage is meant to be equal, but Oki takes advantage of her and her absence due to finding out about his affair just to continue his affair. She is also treated as an object. Literally, Fumiko is Oki’s typewriter, typing up all of his novels, including the one about his affair with Otoko. He asks her to type this novel, and of course, she has no choice but to say yes, but she is not happy about it: Fumiko could not simply function mechanically. She seemed to make frequent mistakes―he often heard her tear up a sheet of paper. Sometimes she paused, and he could hear her weeping quietly” (429). Oki asks her to type out his novel, and when she does, she feels immense pain because she has to relive his love for another woman. Fumiko is being used just as a typewriter, and Oki has no remorse for causing her pain. While typing his novel, Fumiko becomes ill. She loses a lot of weight, and throws up often. She was pregnant while she typed this novel, and “[w]ithin a week after finishing it she had a miscarriage” (461). The stress put on Fumiko led to her losing her child. Oki had even noticed that typing the novel was becoming unhealthy for her, but he does nothing to stop it. Years later, when Beauty and Sadness is set, Taichiro is aware of his father’s affair, as well as his novel and what it is about. He says, “I can’t help disliking a novel that shows my mother as a crazy, jealous woman. And yet whenever there’s a new printing she’s the one who stamps each copyright slip with the author’s seal.” (2178). Even years after the novel, Fumiko still has to deal with the pain of her husband’s love affair. She has to relive the torture of typing the novel everytime she stamps the new printings. It is a wonder that she stayed with Oki through all of this. Maybe it was because she had no other choice but to stay with him, even with all of the pain he had caused her.

Keiko, Otoko’s student and lover, is also a victim to being an object for the men in this novel. She is used by both Oki and Taichiro. Oki spends a night with her, and during this scene in the novel, it obvious she does not really want to be with him: “Although she did not resist, he had difficulty uncurling her. Meanwhile it became obvious that she was not a virgin. He began to handle her more roughly” (1012). Oki assumes that Keiko, a sixteen year old girl, is not a virgin, so he decides to be more aggressive to her. This would be considered abusive and harassment, not to mention pedophilic, considering she is a teenager. Weeks later in the novel, Oki decides to go for a walk in the grove, and he thinks of Keiko, but he does not think of her as a whole. Instead, “[f]irst he saw one of her nipples.” (1710). The first thing Oki can think of when imagining Keiko is her nipples. He sees her as a sexual being, not as a human being. He does not think of the art she had sent him, or any of her personality. He sees her breasts. Taichiro also uses her. When meeting with her, they spend a day together, going to a tomb in the mountains and then to a hotel. He decides he wants to feel her up, despite the fact that throughout the day, it is obvious that she is not very happy with him. He grabs one of the straps on her kimono: “He began slipping it down, exposing her breast halfway, and then slipped off the other strap. . .[t]ears were streaming from her tight-shut eyes” (2454). Keiko is upset and pained, but Taichiro does not care. He just wants to see her body, despite her obvious emotional instability throughout the day. At sixteen years old, Keiko is harassed and exposed. It is extremely difficult to imagine her future in which she is not traumatised by the actions of the men around her.

Of all three women, Otoko’s abuse is the worst. At fifteen, she is in an affair with Oki, who is twice her age. He even gets her pregnant, and two months after losing their baby due to miscarriage, Otoko tries to kill herself. She fails, and gets sent to the hospital and is unconscious. Oki “stayed by Otoko’s side for three days without sleeping, until she finally opened her eyes. She writhed and moaned in pain, pawing frantically at herself. Then her glaring eyes seemed to fix on him. ‘No, no! Go away!’” (265). Just seeing Oki made Otoko feel hurt. The moment she had woken up, she screamed for him to leave, not being able to bear looking at him. Not long after this, maybe a few months, Oki writes and publishes his novel. Otoko learns of it, and she reads it, and in the novel she finds that “[t]hanks to her, he wrote, he had experienced all the ways of making love. When she read that, Otoko burned with humiliation” (1455). Otoko is embarrassed. She truly loved him, but what she reads makes it seem like all he cared about was the sex. Their affair made for good content for his novel, and it was his best seller. He profited off of Otoko’s misery, which is the worst part of this entire novel.

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata emphasizes that to some men, especially the men in this novel, women are just tools used for their pleasure, and they can bend and break them as they please. Fumiko is treated literally as a machine, and Oki has no remorse when forcing her to type his novel about his affair with Otoko. Keiko is just a teenage girl, but she is treated as if she is a prostitute, her body mattering more than her skill as an artist. Otoko is Oki’s plaything, and soon he drops her, leaving her depressed and suicidal at such a young age. The women in the novel are beauties, but their pain due to men is what leads to their sadness.