Literary works have always proved to be essential not just in the sense of bringing entertainment to the readers but also providing insights into some of the most crucial questions of life. Since the ancient times, writers aimed at attributing specific traits to characters to express their ideas and interpretations of the culture they experienced. Sometimes, through characters’ image, writings were able to cover the themes of purpose and identity. At other moments, readers exposed themselves to the societal problems of inequality, racism, politics, and love. For instance, “The Love Suicides at Amijima” by Chikamatsu Monzameon and “Tartuffe” by Jean-Baptiste Moliere are both organized around the topic of marriage and love. Even though these works represent different cultures and time frames, the central theme highlighted by the authors is similar and claims that societal rules and ambitions have significantly damaged the concept of love. Therefore, in order to analyze this idea in depth, the following paper will discuss it in the context of the two mentioned works and apply it to different historical and cultural backgrounds.
In “The Love Suicides at Amijima,” the readers are being presented with the story of how contractual marriages can bring severe complications to the lives of individuals. One of the main characters of the reading, Jihei, does not love his wife which results in him turning away not just from her but also from his children (Monzameon, p. 100). The character is so connected to the prostitute named Koharu that he can sacrifice himself to possibly experience the feelings of care and support in the afterlife (Monzameon, p. 100). At the same time, Osman, who is the wife of Jihei, is left with a broken heart and an unsuccessful marriage. Even though Jihei betrayed Osman, all the love that she has for him encourages her to self-sacrifice. She assists him in everything he does and mentions that a loving wife should act with the aim of bringing happiness even if it means giving her husband a possibility to love another woman (Monzameon, p. 100). Therefore, the author highlighted the idea that when love is not a required part of a relationship, the union is meant to end tragically.
Moreover, on the example of Chikamatsu Monzameon’s work, the readers can see that real love, as well as contractual marriage, does not always bring to a successful ending. Koharu and Jihei genuinely love each other, and they want to be together not just in real life but after death. Jihei tells his lover that their souls will forever be connected and that they will never get separated (Monzameo, p. 100). Even though their feelings are extremely strong and mutual, the two individuals have to go through severe struggles. Jihei and Koharu can never be united because of the social circumstances and the ideas around marriage in the surrounding world. She is a prostitute, and he is a working man; thus, their relationship is unacceptable for the society of those times. Consequently, the inappropriateness of love between these two people within the societal situation is one of the main reasons for their tragic death.
“The Love Suicides of Amijima” was written and came into performance in the 18th century when the Japanese society was generally stratified and held a belief that people from similar circles should stay together. As mentioned by Ketelaar et al., this form of societal arrangement “was one of the principal ways in which individuals oriented themselves socially” and established strong relationships with other human beings (p. 19). Moreover, at those times, household was central to an organization of an ideal community; therefore, the process of getting married required much attention and included many details (Ketelaar et al, p. 68). Thus, love was not incorporated in the criteria for a happy marriage. What influenced the success of a relationship were the social status, privileges, and opportunities that each member could bring to the family. Through this writing, Chikamatsu Monzameon aimed at indicating what could be the consequences of arranged marriages and prohibitions of certain connections. The outcomes were a lot more tragic than the inability of two people to be together; the results comprised of failed marriages, conflicts, abandoned children, and suicides.
Even though “Tartuffe” by Jean-Baptiste Moliere represents a different culture and historical period, it carries the same idea as the work of Chikamatsu Monzameon. The comedy highlights that the desire to hold a superior status in the community through arranged marriages hurts the course of true love. In “Tartuffe,” the aging man Orgon focuses on upholding his significant role in the society and wants to be rightful in the eyes of the King and the God himself (Moliere, p. 138). However, while seeking to preserve control, “he instead falls for the ploys of hypocritical Tartuffe” (Moliere, p. 138). Orgon is so blinded by the belief that Tartuffe will help him accomplish the social ambition that he refuses to listen to other individuals and almost causes his family to struggle (Moliere, p. 138). The domestic tyrant does not care about the desires of others; he is too focused on his status and, consequently, disrespects his daughter by forcing her to enter a loveless marriage with Tartuffe (Moliere, p. 138). Thus, “Tartuffe” is an excellent example of how, in the 17th century, French people were able to turn away from their family in order to succeed socially.
The comedy by Moliere has the purpose of showing how social desires can damage happiness and authentic love relationships. It is ironic in the play that Marine, the daughter of Orgon, is in love with Valere, who is acceptable for the family according to all social qualifications (Moliere, p. 138). The relationship between these two people is, therefore, ideal for both their well-being and the rules of society. However, as it was mentioned earlier, Orgon is so focused on the social ambition that he changes his mind and forces his daughter to marry a hypocrite (Moliere, p. 138). The main character does not understand that by pressuring his daughter to start a family with Tartuffe, he will bring severe problems to his wife and children and, most importantly, will make Marine unhappy. While understanding the possible consequences of father’s decision, Marine and her brother put significant effort into making Orgon understand his mistake (Moliere, p. 139). Consequently, this writing directs people towards a thought that love is a required element of any relationship, and it should be not only appropriate for the society but also the personal desire of people.
Through “Tartuffe,” Jean-Baptiste Moliere aimed at depicting that during the 17th century, in France, the rules regarding marriage were strict and ensured that every family is established according to the existing norms. Father always had the privilege of choosing who his daughter or son will marry and how they will live (Ranum, p. 2). It was even believed that “through the family history, the dead could continue to give counsel for their descendants,” which satisfied their need of being remembered and respected by future generations (Ranum, p. 2). Hence, the opinion of authoritative family members was crucial in the household and determined the level of appreciation. Moreover, similar to Japanese society, the French community was divided into the privileged and the poor. It was essential to connect wealthy families since people were sure that this would help to preserve an ideal situation in the country (Solomon, p. 21). Subsequently, marriages were organized according to the desires to hold a specific status rather than connecting two people into a love union. Feelings were left out, causing millions of people to struggle in arranged marriages.
Overall, the creations of literature help individuals to receive an insight into various cultures and time frames. Through these works of art, readers are able to analyze the most crucial problems of the communities, compare them to the issues of present times and learn the history of the surrounding world. For instance, by reading “The Love Suicides at Amijima” and “Tartuffe,” people get a chance to compare and see the similarities of Japanese and French culture. Both of the readings cover the topics of marriage and love and, by using different examples and techniques, indicate that societal rules and people’s ambitions considerably damaged the idea of loving relationships. Therefore, the presented paper discussed the theme of love in more depth by analyzing the two works and providing some cultural background.
- Ketelaar, James Edward, et al., editors. Values, Identity, and Equality in Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century Japan. Brill, 2015.
- Moliere, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. “Tartuffe.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Martin Puchner, 4th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 138-191.
- Monzameon, Chikamatsu. “The Love Suicides at Amijima.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, edited by Martin Puchner, 4th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2018, pp. 100-126.
- Ranum, Orest. Artisans of Glory: Writers and Historical Thought in Seventeenth-Century France. UNC Press Books, 2017.
- Solomon, Howard M. Public Welfare, Science and Propaganda in 17th-Century France: The Innovations of Theophraste Renaudot. Princeton University Press, 2015.