In a Grove

In a Grove Summary

Set in pre-modern Japan, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa's short story "In a Grove" is a collection of testimonies and confessions that concern the death of a twenty-six-year-old samurai named Kanazawa no Takehiro.

The first section of the story comprises four testimonies given to a magistrate, a Kyoto city official who is investigating the mysterious death. The woodcutter who found the body that morning speaks first, confirming the location of the deserted bamboo grove where he found the corpse and describing the dry chest wound in detail. Next, a traveling Buddhist priest says he saw a man, a woman, and a horse the day before just after noon. Next, a policeman testifies that he has caught a bandit named Tajōmaru, who is infamous for raping women around Kyoto. The policeman suggests Tajōmaru is responsible and that the magistrate should question him. The fourth testimony is delivered by the young woman's mother, who confirms that her daughter Masago and Masago's husband Takehiro—the dead samurai—would have been traveling in the hills the day before. She breaks down crying, worried for her missing daughter's safety.

The narrative switches to Tajōmaru's voice as he casually confesses to having killed Takehiro. He details how Masago's beauty led him to execute a plan: first leading Takehiro into a bamboo grove under the pretense that he would sell him treasure stolen from an aristocrat's burial mound, Tajōmaru then tied Takehiro up and raped Masago. To his surprise, she asked him to kill either himself or her husband, saying she would be with the one who lived. Tajōmaru untied Takehiro and challenged him to a sword fight that ended in Tajōmaru stabbing Takehiro in the chest on his twenty-third thrust. Meanwhile, Masago escaped, so Tajōmaru fled the forest with Takehiro's weapons and rode Masago's horse until he was bucked off and subsequently caught. Tajōmaru is resigned to his fate and asks that he be executed by hanging at the tree outside the prison.

The next account comes from Masago herself, delivered as a confession in the Kiyomizu Temple. In her version of events, Masago details the contempt that she saw in Takehiro's eyes after Tajōmaru raped her. She went to her husband's side but Tajōmaru kicked her to the ground and she lost consciousness. When she awoke, the bandit was gone; she concluded that she and her husband needed to die, now that her honor had been disgraced. She found the dagger she had used to try to fend off Tajōmaru and, with his permission, plunged the dagger into her husband's chest. She tried to stab herself in the neck and throw herself into a pond but ultimately failed to commit suicide. After her rape and her failed attempt to commit joint suicide, Masago asks the religious authority to whom she speaks what she should do.

The final testimony is delivered by Takehiro's spirit, as told through a medium. Takehiro's version contradicts Masago's and Tajōmaru's accounts by claiming that Masago asked the bandit to kill her husband. United in their shock at Masago's betrayal, the men discussed whether Tajōmaru should kill her; this show of respect makes Takehiro forgive Tajōmaru for his crimes. While Takehiro hesitated to answer the bandit, Masago escaped into the grove. Tajōmaru untied the rope binding Takehiro to the cedar tree and fled with Takehiro's weapons. Exhausted, Takehiro took Masago's dagger and stabbed himself. He slowly bled as he watched the sun set over the grove; in the dark, an unidentified character walked up to him and withdrew the knife. The story ends with Takehiro saying he then sank into the darkness between lives. With no unifying narrative presence to clarify the contradictory events presented in the testimonies, the reader is left without a clear idea of how Takehiro died, only possibilities.