Rashomon Literary Elements


Short Story

Setting and Context

Heian, Early Christian, and Meiji periods; Japan

Narrator and Point of View

"In a Grove" - many narrators: all testimonial, but not all delivered to the High Police Commissioner (in order: Woodcutter, Traveling Buddhist Priest, Homen (policeman), Old Woman (Masago's mother), Tajomaru, A Woman (Masago), and Murdered Man (Takehiko)).

"Rashōmon" - Third-Person Limited

"Yam Gruel" - Akutagawa; then, Third-Person Limited

"The Martyr" - Third-Person Objective

"Kesa and Morito" - two narrators: Morito, Kesa, (both First-Person)

"The Dragon" - two narrators: Third-Person Limited, old potter (acting as Third-Person Limited)

Tone and Mood

"In a Grove" - matter-of-fact, sympathetic, angry, sorrowful, matter-of-fact, hysterical, and sympathetic

"Rashōmon" - detached and grave

"Yam Gruel" - sardonic and pessimistic

"The Martyr" - archaic and elevated

"Kesa and Morito" - devastated and impassioned

"The Dragon" - caustic and bewildered

Protagonist and Antagonist

"In a Grove": Tajomaru v. Masago. "Rashōmon": a servant v. an old woman. "Yam Gruel": Goi v. society. "The Martyr": Lorenzo v. society. "Kesa and Morito: Morito/Kesa v. self. "The Dragon": Hanazō v. self.

Major Conflict

"In a Grove" - how was Takehiko murdered?

"Rashōmon" - will the servant choose death or thievery?

"Yam Gruel" - will Goi get his fill of yam gruel after all?

"The Martyr" - will the congregation realize their sin against Lorenzo?

"Kesa and Morito" - will Morito or Kesa overcome their personal inhibitions to live happy lives?

"The Dragon" - will Hanazō's prank deliver the respect he wants from his peers?


"In a Grove" - Takehiko says he killed himself

"Rashōmon" - the servant strips the old woman's clothing from her

"Yam Gruel" - Goi sneezes into the silver pitcher of yam gruel

"The Martyr" - Lorenzo tosses the baby safely to its mother only to be crushed by a burning pillar, which reveals her female body

"Kesa and Morito" - Kesa blows out the light, having decided to kill herself

"The Dragon" - a dragon ascends from the pond


"In a Grove" - there are no true events, so all presentation of evidence foreshadows its eventual refutation

"Rashōmon" - the servant contemplates becoming a thief

"Yam Gruel" - "His face gave the impression that ever since birth he had had his cold-looking red nose" (loc. 326)

"The Martyr" - "the perfection and purity of [Lorenzo's] face and form, and sweet feminine voice made him the darling of everyone" (loc. 582)

"Kesa and Morito" - "I shudder to think that tonight will destroy my present self and turn me into a wretched murderer" (loc. 733)

"The Dragon" - "It would have been more certain if he had said that no dragon would ascend to heaven" (loc. 858)




Allusions include those to William Butler Yeats, Anatole France, Samuel Butler, numerous tales from Konjaku Monogatarishū, and the Christian Bible


See ClassicNote section on Imagery.


"In a Grove" - see ClassicNote section about "The Rashōmon Effect"

"Rashōmon" - the old woman's justification for stealing works against her when the servant steals from her

"Yam Gruel" - Goi gets what he wants and yet cannot be satiated, he ruins it instead

"The Martyr" - the person the congregation had though impregnated the umbrella-maker's daughter is female

"Kesa and Morito" - neither character loves the other, yet because of personal and societal expectations they follow through with the killing

"The Dragon" - the notice board posts a lie, and yet a dragon ascends from the pond


The parallels between the different stories are more thematic than structural, but each of the stories deals with at least one main character at the very lowest strata of society who meets a bitter end. Indeed, Akutagawa proves himself a pessimist with such strong parallels as these.

Metonymy and Synecdoche