The core element in relationships, especially in marriage, is the aspect of self-sacrifice. In Eastern Orthodoxy, marriage is a type martyrdom, which is why crowns are placed on the bride and groom’s heads during the sacrament of marriage. They are crowns of martyrdom, which means giving selflessly to the other, which is the epitome of true love.
Self-sacrifice is also present in other relationships such as parents to their children, siblings to each other, and in close friendships. The principle of self-sacrifice in marriage and family is greatly expressed through the two main female characters in the short stories, “The Thirteenth Night” and “Punishment.”
Although “The Thirteenth Night” and “Punishment” take place in different countries, they share the common thread of discontentment in marriage and how the core of selflessness may be lacking in their marriages and familial relationships. The two female protagonists in “The Thirteenth Night” and “Punishment” challenge their marriages that ultimately leads to self-sacrifice through apathy for one and self-sacrifice through tragedy for the other, deeply impacting their relationships.
In “The Thirteenth Night,” the protagonist, Oseki, weighs her desires against the greater good of her family and community, which is demonstrated through her conversations with her parents and her childhood friend.
The story opens with Oseki standing near her parents’ house, disheartened by the task before her–to ask their permission to divorce Isamu, her husband. She then hears her father’s loud voice talking of all that he is thankful for that has to do with Oseki’s marriage.
She grapples with conflicting thoughts regarding the dire circumstances for her son, Tarō, if she were to leave her husband, and the financial well being of her parents and brother. For a moment, she thinks, “But if she had her way and went through with the divorce, it would be the end of everything” (Ichiyō 2.7), which are pertaining to her thoughts above: her relationship with her son and the loss of a job for her brother.
Oseki convinces herself at that moment that the permanent separation from her son and the loss of her brother’s job security are worth discarding for her freedom, and chooses her own desires to end the marriage rather than sacrificing her own wants for the sake of her marriage, son, and family.
Having a close bond with her parents, Oseki feels comfortable enough to share her miseries with her surprised parents. In her descriptions of Isamu, he is seen as a man of importance, but with that, he displays arrogance and condescending behavior toward Oseki. She points out, “You know, for the first six months or so after we were married, he was always at my side, doing everything he could for me. But as soon as Tarō was born—it’s frightening how much a man can change!” (Ichiyō 2.8).
Because “The Thirteenth Night” was written in the early 1900s and takes place in Japan in Japanese culture, there were no marriage or family counselors to talk to them about the changes that happen between a husband and wife after the birth of their first child.
We don’t know the details of their backstory, other than their relationship changed after their son was born, and it somehow led to Isamu’s negative changes and infidelities, although infidelities committed by husbands were not unusual in that time period or culture for married couples. Clearly, there was a break in their relationship that had lost the element of self-sacrifice as well as mutual respect in their marriage.
Oseki’s parents show the customary love and support toward her. However, her father tells her, “Even if he is fussy and a little difficult sometimes, it’s still a wife’s duty to humor her husband” (Ichiyō 2.9). He also reminds her of the consequences of leaving her husband–never being able to see Tarō again.
In the mutual respect between Oseki and her parents, Oseki honors her father in a show of obedience, selflessness, and love, by ultimately making the decision to stay with her husband.
Oseki stays true to the core element of relationships–self-sacrifice. She reaffirms this after she leaves her parents’ house and takes a rickshaw back home. She discovers the man driving the rickshaw is a childhood friend, Roku, who had once loved her and she him. He shares all of his struggles in his present life since Oseki’s marriage. She shares in his pains by saying, “You’re not the only one to suffer in this sad world…” (Ichiyō 2.10).
Once they have finished their conversation, they both go on with their own lives, showing self-sacrifice for the greater good instead of their own desires, keeping their relationships intact.
The difficult decision between the sacrifice of self and the family in “The Thirteenth Night” is explored in the short story, “Punishment,” through the protagonist, Chandara’s decision between life and death; in reconciling her marriage or dying for a crime she didn’t commit.
In dealing with combative relationships with her sister-in-law, Radha, and husband, Chidam, there is very little family support or show of the core element of self-sacrifice in Chandara’s family and marriage. The story begins with the brothers Dukhiram and Chidam working in the fields with the sound of the daily squabbles between Chandara and Radha being heard throughout the village.
When the brothers get home, Dukhiram has a heated argument with his wife, Radha, and ends up killing her. He crumples to the floor in tears, scared and shocked by what he’d done and what would happen to him.
This terrible incident leads to the brothers consulting with a well-respected citizen of stature in the village. Chidam fears the fate of his brother and decides to say his wife killed Radha instead of his brother. Dukhiram accepts Chidam’s story out of fear and does not question blaming his crime on his sister-in-law.
It is understandable that Chidam would be alarmed and very concerned about his brother because their relationship is very close–they share a house and work together–but in Dukhiram’s cowardness, he does not show self-sacrifice and admit to the authorities that he killed Radha.
The marital relationship of Chidam and Chandara is cluttered with pride, pigheadedness, and jealousy. Chidam cares more for his brother than his wife as demonstrated when he says to Ramlochan Chakrabarti, an important and outstanding member of the village, “If I lose my wife, I can get another, but if my brother is hanged, how can I replace him?” (Tagore 3.3).
It is true that Chidam only has his one brother, and it is understandable that he would want to save his brother from the damning consequences of his crime, but sacrificing his wife isn’t commendable. This shows a lack of respect by Chidam for Chandara, and that he views Chandara as less important and inferior to his brother, which was the norm in Indian society at the time.
In his fears for his brother’s circumstances, Chidam adds insult to injury by informing his wife of his plan, for which Chandara is taken aback. To lessen the blow, he tells her, “Don’t worry—if you do what I tell you, you’ll be quite safe” (Tagore 3.4), but he is not very confident later when he tells her he will get her out of the murder charge soon. Angry and hurt, Chandara accepts the blame. The actions of Chidam show a deficit in self-sacrificial love to his spouse in their marriage.
In front of the village authorities, headstrong and hurt, Chandara confesses to the crime and later sticks to her confession in court even after Chidam and Dukhiram break down and tell the truth when they are in court. In prison, Chandara shows her contempt for her husband in not accepting his request to visit her in jail. She shows pride and desire for revenge against Chidam for hurting her that ultimately leads to her self-sacrifice to be free from her relationship with him by the authorities executing her for the crime (Tagore 3.5).
Both of the marriages in “Punishment” end in death through senseless acts. The core element of self-sacrifice is twisted in the marital relationship between Chandara and Chidam, whereas she does sacrifice her life for Chidam’s brother, but she does not do it for selfless or honorable reasons.
The two main female characters in “The Thirteenth Night” and “Punishment” struggle with self-sacrifice in their marital relationships by defying their husbands, impacting their families and communities, one temporarily, the other permanently.
In the Japanese culture, “The Thirteenth Night” shows the tradition of collectivism where one makes the sacrifice for the greater good of the whole in the family and community, whereas.
The Indian story, “Punishment,” shows self-sacrifice in giving up one’s life through anger, retaliation, and to be free from the restrictive bonds of marriage and norms.
In the present day, self-sacrifice is still the most endearing and important element in marriage, family, and other relationships.
Ichiyō, Higuchi. “The Thirteenth Night.” Trans. Robert Lyons Danly. Modern World Literature. Asheville NC: Soomo Publishing, 2016. Web.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “Punishment.” Trans. William Radice. Modern World
Literature. Asheville NC: Soomo Publishing, 2016. Web.