The Thirteenth Night

Just some general thoughts on a short story that I had read (as part of the assigned readings for this week).

The story is called ‘Jusan’ya’, otherwise known in English as ‘The Thirteenth Night‘. I probably missed out what the significance of 13th is (possibly it was referenced somewhere within the story), but the story does have a certain resonance even in a contemporary setting.

Briefly, the story talks about how the main protagonist, Oseki, seeks divorce from her husband. She has been living up to the ideal of a ‘good mother and wise wife’ but her husband just keeps shooting her down whatever she does.

He complains that she’s not good enough (educated or refined compared to the wives of his associates/friends), yet doesn’t allow her to study in private (this story being written in 1895 Japan, women weren’t allowed to seek education unless consent from a socially superior male (either father if unmarried or husband if married) had been given. In the case of Oseki, her family wasn’t that wealthy to allow her to go to school before she had been married while her husband prevented her from being learned after she had been married.)

He plays down all her concern for him and complains that she is not the ideal wife he had envisioned her to be. Yet he does not tell her openly to leave him, instead preferring to continue a campaign of passive-aggressiveness in hopes that she will seek a divorce from him.

This is complicated by the fact that he is socially successful as a government employee within the story, and Oseki’s younger brother has benefited from her marriage to him in the form of employment and promotion as well.

And so the story’s dramatic climax comes when Oseki feels obligation towards taking care of her young son but detesting her husband greatly after years of such behavior. Despite knowing how sad her parents would be that her marriage isn’t happy, she seeks their (or rather, her father’s) assent for a divorce. Her mom agrees with her but her dad reckons that she’s still too attached to her son, and may in the future yearn for a place as a wife of her husband rather than returning to their family as a daughter that was socially disgraced.

So her dad asks her not to give up her son’s future for the sake of these emotions, but instead rely on other social support structures such as her family to deal with these emotions. The story ends with her meeting a long-lost acquaintance that once had romantic feelings towards her and she reminiscing of the possibilities she had envisioned had she married him instead.

It’s interesting that these human struggles and emotions are still quite relevant today despite the changes society’s perceptions towards divorce (as opposed to the past) and how women have become cognizant of this fact as well. The more things change, the more they stay the same, so it seems.

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