In a Grove

In a Grove Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Testimony and Confession (Motif)

In lieu of a narrative authority, “In A Grove” is told entirely through first-person testimonies and confessions delivered by the story’s characters. This distinctive and recurrent structural device enables characters to give narrative accounts that contain discrepancies and contradictions. As a result, the story manages to reject any conclusive notion of truth in favor of presenting reality as an entanglement of subjective points of view.

Masago’s Beauty (Motif)

First described by the priest as veiled, Masago’s beauty is a recurring subject in the story, touched on by her mother and Tajōmaru. When the breeze lifts her veil and the bandit catches sight of her face, he is driven wild with the desire to rape her. This criminal intention sets off the chain of events that leads to Takehiro’s body being found in the grove. Takehiro also comments on his wife’s beauty when she is spellbound by Tajōmaru’s words; in this instance, her beauty is used to contrast with her subsequent betrayal.

Objective Truth (Allegory)

The entire story can be viewed as an extended metaphor for the impossibility of an objective account of reality. The varying accounts of the murder at the heart of “In a Grove” serve to illustrate the manner in which humans are perhaps unable or unwilling to reach an entirely factual and unbiased consensus on life itself.

Dream-like states (Motif)

“In a Grove” departs from a realist depiction of reality in its dream-like treatment of certain events. When Masago thrusts the dagger into her husband’s chest, she describes herself as drifting somewhere between dream and reality. She is also said to have lost consciousness and awoken a number of times throughout the story, leading a reader to question whether her perspective is influenced by dream-like imagination. Takehiro himself describes the spectacle of his wife struggling to escape the forest as akin to “some kind of vision,” and the “darkness between lives” from which he narrates is a spirit realm between reality and death that is not dissimilar to the liminal space of dreams.

Bamboo Grove (Symbol)

The deserted bamboo grove from which the story takes its name is rich with symbolic meaning. As a plant capable of providing nutrition and shelter, known for both strength and pliability, bamboo has long been considered sacred. The hollowness of bamboo shoots has a particular significance as a symbol of Buddhist enlightenment, which requires a person to embrace emptiness in order to contain the universal spirit, thereby being released from suffering and freed from the cycle of rebirth. Bamboo’s empty form suggests that objects do not take shape around what they contain but around what they lack. With this in mind, the structure of bamboo can be said to mirror the structure of the story, which takes shape around the absence of objective truth.