Life of a Sensuous Woman, by Ihara Saikaku Essay

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In the novel Life of a Sensuous Woman, Ihara Saikaku depicts the journey of a woman who, due to voraciously indulging in the ever-seeking pleasure of the Ukiyo lifestyle, finds herself in an inexorable decline in social status and life fulfillment. Saikaku, utilizing characters, plot, and water imagery, transforms Life of a Sensuous Woman into a satirically critical commentary of the Ukiyo lifestyle: proposing that it creates a superficial, unequal, and hypocritical society.

Ukiyo is a culture that strives to live a strictly pleasure-seeking routine. The largest flaw in this way of life, as Saikaku points out, is that its superficial nature forces people to live lives as meaningless and fluffy as its name, the “Floating World,” suggests.
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This then suggests that women are of little worth once their looks and sex appeal have waned. Such a claim is paralleled by the protagonist’s own realization near the end of the novel, after many years of following the path of Ukiyo, whereby she states: “our bodies really do disappear completely” (620) and then we are left with nothing. Saikaku, through these characters and situations, foreshadows the ultimate outcome for individuals of his own society if they were to fall prey to the superficiality of Ukiyo.

This shallowness in the Ukiyo lifestyle indisputably breeds gender discrimination and stereotypes. In fact, the inequality is immediately echoed in Saikaku’s opening line: a woman is “an ax that cuts down a man’s life” (605). Throughout the entire novel the audience is continually reminded about these gender discrepancies, and of the expectations placed upon individuals to conform to the status quo of their gender roles. Women in particular, receive the brunt of this discrimination, which in nearly every case, has to do with physical characteristics. One such case describes that a beautiful woman is expected to have symmetric facial features, ears that are prominent, but “not fleshy,” feet about “seven inches long,” and that she should “not have a single mole on her body” (609-610). Saikaku, of course, satirizes

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