Some Thoughts on Rashomon, the movie and/or In the Grove

Some Thoughts on Rashomon, the movie and/or In the Grove

Sagun Basnet

The different narratives on the same event so wisely depicted in Rashomon make me think of how in all the narratives the perception of being a woman is similar if not same. Let us first look at the narratives when it comes to portray the woman’s reaction to her apparent rape.

The looter Tajomaru says that after the rape, he was about to leave the woman in tears when “she frantically clung to my arms. In broken fragments of words, she asked that either her husband or I die. She said it was more trying than death to have her shame known to two men”.

In a similar vein, the wife says that she communicated not with Tajomaru but to her husband and said, “Since things have to come to this pass, I cannot live with you. I’m determined to die…but you must die too. You saw my shame. I can’t leave you as alive you are”.

On the other hand, the husband says that his wife before leaving with Tajomaru asked him to kill her husband as she cannot marry him as long as he lives.

These different narratives when it came to the women’s response to the trauma inflicted upon her makes me read it in two different lights. The first of which for me is the trauma of being a second class citizen in terms of gender. This being a second class citizen is trauma for my understanding not only because of the way socio-political ways differentiate between men and women’s sexuality but also because most of the times, this so called second class citizens (the women here) internalize this position.

Power, as a system, works in societies to make ideologies and to make people consent to a certain norm of normalcy and deviancy of what is right and wrong. This system of power is present in every society and no one is outside the matrix of this power system. In order to sustain in this position of power, the power holders create certain ideologies and impose it on the masses through education, media and other modes. And the worst part is that the people at the receiving end start to believe in those ideologies and function per se.

The responses to the women’s rape starkly define this system for me where all of the three believe that being a woman, her sexuality is her shame. This culture of shame is so well politicized in the location of this story that each of the three characters unquestioningly believes that having the shame known to more than one man entails a life worse than death for the woman as well as her man.

This economy of shame reminds me of Foucoult’s notion of discipline where the male as well as the female have internalized that one species of the human race is vulnerable enough to be corrupted when her “shame” is ruined. This for me subtly is a trauma caused by the internalization of overwhelming power systems. A trauma of accepting how one is seen.

With this said, I again felt the urge to read the same response in another light. As Rashomon teaches us that there can be no one way of seeing things, I am tempted to perceive the same thing from a different perspective too.

This takes me back to my class on Postcoloniality and Subalternity during my first semester at NYU when Scott’s essay on Normal Exploitation, Normal Resistance had generated hot debates in my class. Scott says that everyday resistance which is individualized and spontaneous is the space from where the subaltern mass can slowly erode the authority. He avers that “these passive moments of resistance are not trivial and are often more effective than massive and defiant confrontations” (32).

While I cannot describe if the everyday resistance he talks about is effective enough to subvert what is practiced and pervades the thoughts, it certainly is interesting if understood in line with Rashomon. The response of the woman in all the three narratives, for me marks the same space Scott delineates from where the woman resists individually and spontaneously. It is in my knowledge that this argument is completely different from the argument I have done above, yet it springs from the same space where a woman and her sexuality or her shame are politicized. Perhaps, this way of looking at the same thing with two divergent lenses is what I acquired from Rashomon itself.

However, my argument at this point is, the woman’s stance on one of the two men should be killed in all the three narratives is a resistance from her side. It is a place from where she decides that she is the master of her sexuality and deserves all the rights to choose who she will go with. Although the argument is based on her assumption that her “shame” has been corrupted, what matters for me is what she says. Thus, at this moment the woman, for me becomes a subaltern who has spontaneously resisted eroding the authority over her. This juncture then makes me reflect whether the trauma of losing the most precious thing makes one strong or gives them a sort of power. This assumption is predicated on my hypothesis that one fears and becomes weak till the time one has something to lose, but when there remains nothing to lose, does trauma bestow power on the traumatized?

December 7 2009


One thought on “Some Thoughts on Rashomon, the movie and/or In the Grove

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  1. This movie absolutely scared me back then. The corruption of shame/innocence and power dynamics of the east (probably global scenario) create a great narrative on your essay on how male members keep their power intact while women have to suffer.. Absolutely love your write up.

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