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Sei Shonagon’s “Hate” in the Heian Era

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    Sei Shonagon is a Japanese female novelist born in Heian era, who is famous for her articulation of the annoyances, she witnesses on a daily basis. Her wide range of dislikes focuses on different themes, in particular simulation of situations with comedic value with attention to a leading undertone. The extract “Hateful Things” may be considered a personal essay. Regardless of the content of the extract being labeled as mostly hateful, the description of the scenarios leaves an intimate connection to the reader.

    Sei details her pet peeves in such a way that it paints an imaginary portrait in the audience’s mind. The essay has no real flow but rather a consistent list of demeaning situations by the voice of Sei. Even with this unique way of writing, the reader realizes the intimacy the persona has with the taste of hatred. In this essay, I plan to analyze the root of the author’s hate and argue about the perception of a comment being hostile if it is in fact the truth. In my view, the comments voiced by the persona focus on the truth of her distinct situations and may not entirely be considered to be hateful.

    While it is true that some events in the extract may seem intolerable, there are still times that the reader notices the perfection and transparency Sei Shonagon craves in this period of high culture. When analyzing this essay, I will acknowledge the different ways to read this excerpt in terms of logos, pathos and ethos. The word “hate” will carry a different representation for the audience and the speaker. Does the history of the author implore the reader to critique the extract in a different way?

    As a reader, we can improve our understanding of the excerpt and the definitional meaning of hate in that period by researching the culture at that time and acknowledging the background of the author. In making this comment, one has to realize that Sei Shonagon was a court lady. “A court lady, also known as a lady in waiting, is a female personal assistant at a court, royal or feudal, attending on a queen, a princess, or a high-ranking noblewoman”.

    In being a court lady, Sei was associated with people of the higher class. “Court life was concerned with much form and elaborates ritual. Social behavior and costumes were regulated to the minutest point. ” Eventually, I assume that Sei began to scrutinize the customs of the higher class and became immersed in the culture. As such she became rather condescending. Sei Shonagon states, “I hate the sight of men in their cups who shout, poke their fingers in their mouths, stroke their beards…I have seen well-bread people act like this and find it distasteful”.

    No, she is not being hostile in this case. In that scenario, the word hate is used with more a condescending tone rather than a vicious sense. She is simply stating as a woman, the values of a man that she doesn’t approve of. It is not hostile as she is showing the inadequacies of the culture around her. Instead of being hypocritical, Sei bluntly shows the audience the irony of the situation. Sei Shonagon is corroborating the age-old adage that wealth doesn’t buy class. The voice of the essay confidently confesses her irritations with the simplicities of life.

    These irritations are centered on themes such as nature, culture, hate, honesty and class. In terms of structure in the extract, it is clear that the poetic mantra is “Oh, how hateful! ” Sei repeats these three distasteful words as a closing feature of every scenario. Initially, when analyzing this statement, I furiously contemplated the different angles of this phrase. Reading from sidelines of the audience, I thought Sei was a miserable lady screaming this thought inside of her head. This may be true but I pondered this phrase at a different angle.

    According to the dictionary, the word hate means “to dislike intensely or passionately. ” Taking into account the context of when this extract was written, I argue that the phrase may be considered to be a form of slang in the Heian era. The phrase may even be translated in modern dialect as “damn it. ” This phrase does not carry the same intensity as the word “hate. ” Writing in the journal commentary, Sei Shonagon complains that “A gentleman as visited secretly… He is so flurried, that upon leaving he bangs into something with his hat.

    Basically, in these lines, the adjective of the word ‘hate’ is used with a synonymous feel of the word annoying. In fact, the phrase “how annoying” may have been switched with “most hateful” to convey the same meaning of the sentence. This example cements the fact that the word ‘hate’ has different meanings in different situations. In certain paragraphs, the persona of the extract may be deemed unexplainable hostile. Although, I agree with Sei Shonagon approach of expressing her honest views on societal issues, I cannot accept Sei Shonagon’s overriding assumption that killing animals is righteous.

    In some moments of the extract, she reacts too strongly to situations and thus may be construed as hostility. For example, “An admirer has come on a clandestine visit, but a dog catches sight of him and starts barking. One feels like killing the beast. ” The author’s point comes from a place of anger, for this reason I consider this to be hostility. Sei Shonagon’s use of the quote in this Japanese era, “Oh how hateful” is ironic to me as Heian means “peace and tranquility. ” Sei Shonagon personality would have been considered an anomaly in this peaceful times.

    As such, I rationalize that Sei Shonagon was really a peaceful misunderstood court lady with a strong grasp on what she considered to be right in life. I urge the readers of this extract to research the politics, economics and cultural aspects of Heian era in Japanese history. For example, “Japan: A Concise History” is an important source of secondary research as it depicts a clear image of the political and economic power of Japan in various eras. This information gives me the confidence to make intelligent comments about the societal affairs of Sei Shonagon without ignorant bias.

    Honesty and transparency in society are central themes in this journal entry of “Pillow Talk,” although some readers may think that this extract is only about the author’s severe dislike for the world, it is in fact a commentary on her sensitivity to the culture around her; I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that extract is solely based on hatred due to the fact that she challenges the audience to become honest for as long as possible while emphasizing the clear cut approach of expressing honesty as a way to stop deception.

    In her extract, “Hateful Things”, Sei maintains that “sometimes a person who is utterly devoid of charm will try to create a god impression by using very elegant language; yet he only succeeds in being ridiculous. ” There is nothing hostile about this opinion as she gives a commentary of marvels of human interaction and the passage to ‘fitting in. ’ Even though this comment was true in her perspective; I believe that the antagonistic element is not present. With these conclusions, I have formulated the thesis that opinion is not necessarily considered hostile it focuses on the honesty and transparency of the situation.


    1. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Court_lady, February 20, 2013
    2. Meyer, Milton Walter. Japan: a concise history-4th ed, 60
    3. Phillip Lopate, The Art of the personal essay: an anthology from the classical era to the present / selected and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. “A Teachers & Writers Collaborative book,24-30”

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