Study Guide

Memoirs of a Geisha What's Up With the Ending?

By Arthur Golden

What's Up With the Ending?

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Everyone has felt trapped at some point in their lives, whether it's in a small town or just a really long line at the grocery store. Sayuri's career as a geisha is like the worst trip to the grocery store ever. She keeps changing lines, but none of them ever reach the register.

Until the end of the book. Sayuri spends most of the novel thinking she will never get out of Gion, yet at the end of her Memoirs, she takes two significant plane trips. First though, she must hit rock bottom. In her case, rock bottom hits her when World War II occurs. It affects everyone. Geisha districts close. Mameha becomes a nurse's aid, and Pumpkin works as a prostitute. Things will never be the same.

Sayuri's first plane trip occurs when she goes to a party on an island with Nobu, the Chairman, and a greasy old Minister. Here, Sayuri sleeps with the Minister to stop Nobu from being interested in her. For her whole career, she has been the object of sex at the expense of others. Now she decides to turn the tables, using her sex to hurt someone else. She's still using her sex though. For a geisha, that will never change.

Her second plane trip is her trip to America. She wins the Chairman's heart—well, the part of it that isn't married—and relocates to America. She tells the Chairman she wants to move to America. Sure, she needs his help, but it's the first time in her life Sayuri has ever chosen her place to live, and it's liberating:

I began to feel like a tree whose roots had at last broken into the rich, wet soil deep beneath the surface. (35.2)

She has been told her whole life she was made of water, flowing all over the place, uncontained. But water gives life to a tree, and a sturdier life for Sayuri.

It may be sturdy, but it's still sad. She has a baby that she can't tell us about, because it's the illegitimate son of the Chairman. And everyone she knows is dead. But Sayuri still has her characteristic hope, which is the only thing she ever had to get her through the darkest times in her life. Her last line is

What our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper. (35.37)

That's inspirational. Or is it? Is this final line hopeful, or is it more like "don't worry because you'll be dead soon too?"