“The Thirteenth Night” is a short story by Higuchi Ichiyō, first published in 1895. It follows Oseki Harada, a woman who is married to an abusive husband named Isamu Harada. Oseki left her home, leaving her child behind, in order to seek permission from her parents for a divorce. Ichiyo’s harsh honesty about the problems of late nineteenth-century life in Japan and her detailed descriptions of both scenery and what is going on in each character’s mind fit the story into the genre of poetic realism. Ichiyo’s piece also is a major contribution to fiction of the era on the condition of women.
“The Thirteenth Night” is a third-person omniscient narrative concerning the struggles faced by Harada Oseki, the beautiful daughter from a low ranking family. The narrative starts with Oseki standing outside her parents’ house, overhearing a conversation between her mother and father. Her father is talking about the family’s improved standard of living ever since Oseki married Isamu, a rising civil servant runners water bottle. He is particularly pleased with the progress Oseki’s brother is making as the protegé of Isamu. Oseki snuck away from her house, leaving her child with her husband’s maids. Her reason for coming to her parents’ house was to seek permission from her father to get a divorce. Oseki has doubts about telling her parents and dissolving the marriage as it would result in her parents and her brother losing their recently improved standard of living, but after a brief conversation, she reveals the reason she came to see them
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Oseki describes to her parents the relationship she has with her husband. Isamu does not respect her because she is not well-educated; as a result, he is verbally abusive and seems to delight in humiliating her. After Oseki’s explanation, her mother supports Oseki in her desire for a divorce. Her father counters that her situation is not unique and that she is not the only one who has a less than satisfactory life with her husband. He says that it is her responsibility as his wife to take care of him, and that for the good of her family, particularly her brother, she must stay married. Oseki agrees with her father in the end and agrees to go back home, mostly because she believes that she could never truly be happy without her son, Taro, whom she would never see again if she got the divorce. However, she says that she will be “spiritually dead” and will look after Taro as if she is a living ghost.
On her way back home, she gets a rickshaw to take her back home used electric meat tenderizer for sale. The rickshaw puller is Kosaka Roku, a childhood friend of Oseki’s who used to be in love with her. They exchange conversation about Roku’s downward spiral since the time Oseki got married, the narrator reveals that they were romantically involved until Oseki was forced to marry Isamu. The narrative then ends with their going back to their unhappy lives, unsure if they are to see each other again.
Oseki is the main character of the “The Thirteenth Night”, her attempts to escape her unhappy marriage contradicted many of the social normals within the institution of marriage in Japan, however she eventually complies with these norms. The unhappy aspects of her life that are examined throughout the short story, depict the harshness of life. This places the short story within the genre of realism. The scene at the end, when Oseki and Roku are once again separated, is an example of this realism, as it shows how life rarely has the fairytale ending that some literature portrays.
Oseki’s parents play a crucial role in how Oseki is tied to her husband. When Oseki married Isamu, he gave Oseki’s brother a good paying job, and helped her family financially, thus raising their social status and standard of living. Her parents provide a source of familial pressure for her to stay married to Isamu despite the poor quality of their relationship. The effect of the input the father gives in regards to how Oseki feels about her marriage, shows just how much of an influence he has on her life.
Isamu is Oseki’s abusive husband. The miserable life that he creates for her causes Oseki to seek permission for divorce in the first place. The description of the relationship is an example of the realist style that is prevalent throughout the short story, as it portrays life as harsh.
Roku is introduced as a figure from Oseki’s childhood, and it is suggested that there was a romantic relationship between them. However, when Isamu shows interest in Oseki, her parents urged her to marry him instead fabric bobble remover. Roku’s appearance represents the ideal life that they could have led if they got married. However, the realism influence on the story shows how these ideal lives are not common in the real world.