In class yesterday, one question that I found particularly interesting was that of whether or not Jack is aware of himself. As a wealthy white man in Japan during this time, Jack is an individual who is deeply privileged and of high status, with a sense of entitlement to the things that he wants in the world he sees (meaning, of course, the country of Japan) It is clear through his behavior towards Yuki that she is an object in his life that, not only has he purchased for his own use and pleasure, but that is somehow designed for him in body, in beauty, and in a physical sense by which she can serve him.
Does he understand this entitlement as such? I don’t believe so. I do believe that he feels entirely enamored with Yuki, with the comfort and adoration that she gives to him, and with the beauty that she draws into his life. But is this genuine love, or is it simply an obsession with the feminine beauty and “purity” that Yuki possesses, a beauty that he wants to hold and to own. How can Jack genuinely love Yuki when she has no freedom within her marriage? He controls where she goes, what she does (for the most part) the way that she chooses to aestheticize her beauty, etc. Can that be love? If so, the question then becomes a discussion of what we understand love to be.
Take, for example, the way that Jack envisions her in different parts of his house before she arrives to live with him. He speaks of her as if she is a vase, a painting, a piece of furniture that he has bought. Love cannot be love if such an intense and irreversible power dynamic exists between two lovers. If Jack has such a deeply-seeded position of superiority and dominance over Yuki, so much so that he can imagine placing her in different parts of his house, liken her to a small child, and determine how she presents her face, her hair, her body, etc., how can his relationship with Yuki be anything akin to love?
Throughout this story, Jack appeared to be entirely unaware and uncomprehending of his own position in relation to Yuki, Taro, and the Japanese environment surrounding him. His clear and uninhibited misogyny throughout the story, in itself, seems to indicate the lack of an ability to find love in an individual as powerless, as seemingly disenfranchised, as childlike an individual as Yuki is. While she is incredibly clever and resourceful, Yuki is only a child. Can we truly believe that what they feel for each other can be identified as romantic love? If we can call it love, is it ethical to understand it as such? If we are to believe that an older, white, American man of wealth can have a genuine romantic relationship with a girl of only sixteen years–whom he has purchased, point blank, for the purpose of servitude, sexual relations, and marriage–are we ethical in our understanding of the love’s bounds?