Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1994 .S8176 2002
In this essay, Van Es discusses the important influence of societal roles in traditional Japanese society and compares them to the way the stories in Rashomon unfold. He suggests that the characters are not able to tell the truth under certain circumstances, because the social roles predetermined in the feudal Japanese society forbid them to do so. Marriage was a highly socially-significant institution during the Heian era, where Rashomon is set. Hence, the characters' mindset is impacted by powerful, external forces. The social aspect of an individual is a necessary part of the personal aspect: the two are almost inseparable. In effect, the characters present their stories in a way that is fitting for the role strongly demanded of them. Van Es suggests that this drives each of them to divulge a different version of the story.
Rashomon, in part, deals with marriage customs and faithfulness between partners. In examining Japanese marriage customs during this period, one can see how valid relativity of truth is as a proposed explanation for the differences in the characters' point-of-view. How strongly the Japanese society demands certain social roles of its inhabitants influence how personal perception of events changes in trying to conform to these roles. In particular, it was absolutely unthinkable for the samurai to have been humiliated in his perspective, which then led to commit suicide. Also, it was unimaginable for the wife to have had two sexual partners. So much so that she believed that she must kill one of them. Hence, she is led to killing her own husband.
Stressing the importance of social roles in the Japanese society makes one see how it can cause emotional distress so strong as to skew each of the perceptions of the characters in Rashomon. It is reasonable to attribute the disparities in point-of-view to the relativity of truth. Effectively, truth is relative because it is seen within the framework of what society demands. The characters' social roles impacted them so greatly that their subjective points of view were drastically altered.