Study Guide

Memoirs of a Geisha Fate and Free Will

By Arthur Golden

Fate and Free Will

I wasn't born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha. (1.2)

But sometimes fate takes control. A later quote will recall this quote, one of the earliest memorable ones in the book.

Something happened to me—one of those trivial things with huge consequences, like losing your step and falling in front of a train. (1.42)

Chiyo/Sayuri often sees an element of luck in her fate, and very little free will. She doesn't ever think, "If only I had done something differently" because even though her falling over on this day was a trivial thing, it was her fate to do so.

"The pot is cracked! Look!" (1.79)

Geisha put a lot of stock into bad omens, and having a cracked pot is a bad omen. Like a cracked pot, Chiyo's family will soon split.

"You're the year of the monkey. I can tell it just looking at you. What a great deal of water you have! Eight, white; the planet Saturn. And an attractive girl you are. Come closer." (2.54)

The Chinese zodiac, used by the Japanese geisha, is something that's taken very seriously.

We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course. (9.2)

A lot is made about Chiyo being full of water. No, it's not because of any bladder issues, and it isn't simply because her eyes are an icy blue, either. It has to do with her element, which affects her future…if you're superstitious about such a thing. And the geisha are.

I'm not sure if this will make sense to you, but I felt as though I'd turned around to look in a different direction, so that I no longer faced backward toward the past, but forward toward the future. And now the question confronting me was this: What would that future be? (9.8)

What would the future be? Unfortunately, the geisha's precious almanac only tells them what days are good days and bad days to try certain actions. It doesn't tell them exactly how to live their lives, so their fates remain uncertain.

We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. […] We must use whatever methods we can to understand the movement of the universe around us and time our actions so that we are not fighting the currents, but moving with them. (10.98)

This is a general quote about fate that you could find in almost any book with superstitious characters, but the phrase "fighting the currents" recalls Chiyo's "water" energy. She loves those water metaphors so much, it makes us thirsty like a willow tree after a long drought.

"We don't become geisha so our lives will be satisfying. We become geisha because we have no other choice." (25.50)

This quote recalls one of the first lines in the book, about Chiyo not being born into the life of a geisha. No one is. It's a path girls only reach by fate, and for many, it's not a good path.

"You go around consulting almanacs, saying, 'Oh, I can't walk toward the east today, because my horoscope says it's unlucky!' But then when it's a matter of something affecting your entire lives, you simply look the other way." (25.83)

Nobu is insulting here, as usual, but he doesn't understand that geisha have no choice over major matters in their lives, so why would they try to change them? They can only take comfort in consulting the almanac and trying to control their fates for the small things in their lives.

I don't think I'd ever been consciously aware of it, but since the very week she'd run away, I'd carried a belief shrouded somewhere in the back of my mind that the courses of our lives would one day bring us together again. (29.5)

And Sayuri is wrong with a capital W. She never sees her sister again. This isn't a book with a cheesy ending where the sisters are reunited by some crazy twist of fate. Once again, Sayuri's fate is against her, and she will probably never see her sister again.