Let us look at love, yes let us, through the eyes of Ryunosuke Akutagawa. This brilliant short story, called Kesa and Morito, is perhaps one of the best deconstructions on love written by this great Japanese writer. It is an atmospheric story, everything here is in the atmosphere, indeed this story cannot exist without its location, its place or locus. Divided in two parts, it is in the form of two monologues by the only two characters called Kesa and Morito. I am attempting to give a step by step account of their respective monologues and in the process attempt to clarify their psychological states, so crucial to any understanding of what is happening here. We begin with Morito.
We are told that the moon is pensive, and before Morito begins his soliloquy, he is walking on fallen leaves outside his house. Morito is horrified by the moon, its brightness. Morito is contemplating murder, he plans to kill a man whom he does not hate. The man is kesa's husband, Morito's lover, towards whom he feels no anger now, but kill him he must. But does Morito love Kesa really, he questions himself ? His love for Kesa is divisible, before and after she got married and yet Morito thinks his love was a sentimental embellishment, resembling the motive that drove Adam to Eve. Through a break in contact, Morito remembered Kesa vividly and tortured with discontent, he asks of himself...........Do I really love her?
It was Morito's idea to kill Kesa's lover, a decision that he thinks was rash. And it dawns on Morito that he actually despises and hates Kesa and her husband's murder would only disgrace her, for Kesa only professed to love her husband. After persistently prevailing on Kesa, she agrees to be a party to her husband's murder, though Morito repents it now, unsure of why he must do it, even allowing for a supernatural explanation for his decision. However, Kesa's agreeing makes Morito think of her in a new light, as a ready adulteress, and he feels disappointed. And this new realization is not unknown to Kesa, who sees right through his heart. Morito's failure to carry out this murderous act will bring revenge from Kesa, and he fears for his life. At this stage, Kesa's eyes are crying but tearless. The hour draws near, Morito must act, a great power impels him, he hates her, fears her, and yet loves her.
We leave Morito pacing, and a song can be heard out of the night. The human mind is in the dark, with not a light to shine upon.
We meet Kesa, under a lamp, lost in thought, biting her sleeve. Kesa wonders whether Morito will keep his word, because if he does not, she will have to live in shame, like a prostitute. However Kesa is sure he will. Kesa is thinking of when and how she met Morito, and she remembers being ugly, seeing her ugliness mirrored in his eyes, and thinking that the lurid uneasiness of the eclipse of the moon was better compared to the hour when she saw her ugliness, her loneliness as she gave her flesh to a man she hated and despised. Was Kesa moved then by desire alone? Kesa remembers the precise moment of her own decision to help in her husband's murder, and yet sees it as an act of love towards her husband, because she has decided to die for him, to kill herself to atone for having slept with another man.
Or is this a revenge only, for she has discovered Morito's contempt towards her and his wicked lust. Kesa must die for herself, not for her husband. She must die to punish her lover's having hurt her heart and for having sullied her body. Kesa tells us that tomorrow will not fail to shed its cold light on my headless body. She can only love one man, and that very man will kill her.
We find Kesa blowing out the light, as the opening of a shutter is heard, pale moonlight flooding in.
That is how we leave the scene. This story is a remarkable psychological account of two people who do actually love each other. I felt that the doubts and hindrances, the self loathing is part of an intricate process of understanding this strange love, if love can be called that. The hatred and fear are part of this strange feeling, for living together is impossible, living apart is not possible either. Is love here thus a desire alone or is an attempt to revivify in and after death? Is this love not more stronger than their combined hate of everything and each other, stronger because they both desire to kill and destroy what they hate and love simultaneously? There are moments of reflection, of honest testament, of allowing an understanding of their own thoughts in private, of running through the events, of laying bare their emotions. Is not love possible without envy, without jealousy, without honesty?
This is a brilliantly written story, ready material for a short play. It has charm of a sinister kind, of mystery, of passion, of love and drama and lust and wickedness. The moon is another character, bright and horrible for Morito, and pale, pale for Kesa. I am not sure what happens to Kesa and Morito. Did they end in killing each other? I am sure that I have read about love though.