The novel, Some Prefer Nettles, by Junichiro Tanizaki, depicts the story of a troubled couple living in the Taisho period of Japan. The husband, Kaname, and the wife, Misako, are both frustrated with their unhappy marriage, struggling over the decision of divorce while keeping it a secret from everyone but Kaname’s cousin, Takanatsu. Both Kaname and Misako acknowledge their troubled marriage but for varying reasons. Despite receiving advice from Takanatsu, the couple still could not come to a conclusion because of their indecisive characteristics.
As the couple struggles to close the divorce, they are careful toward each other through their actions and speech. Although they both have intentions behind their caring front, Misako is more honest and sincere of Kaname’s feeling whereas Kaname’s consideration of Misako is an act to hide his selfish, cowardly and childlike nature. Kaname was born into a wealthy merchant family, and being “a child of the merchant’s quarter made him especially sensitive to its inadequacies, to its vulgarity and its preoccupation with the material” (36).
His upbringing from the merchant class shows Kaname’s sensitivity to how people perceived him that in turn made him materialistic and sensitive about his appearance. His care toward his physical appearance became clear when “even in the coldest weather he wore only a long under-kimono next to his skin” (15) because “he disliked the patches of winter underwear one so often sees at the neck and sleeves of a kimono” (15). Kaname’s obsession over his clothing seems to be the only useful contribution Misako offers him. Only Misako understood the system well enough to be able to put everything together… that was the only function she really discharged as a wife, the only function for which another woman would not do as well” (8). Kaname’s sensitivity to his appearance is one of the reasons to why he acts caring and considerate of Misako’s feelings. Kaname’s materialistic nature prevails throughout the novel to show his true character of selfishness and self-absorbance. Kaname and Misako have a son named Hiroshi who is now ten years old. Despite Hiroshi’s young age, he is quite aware of his parent’s failing marriage.
When Kaname tells Hiroshi he had matters to talk about with Takanatsu, “Hiroshi knew what that meant. He looked fearfully up at his father, trying to read something from the expression on his face” (47). But when Takanatsu advises Kaname to finalize the divorce, Kaname uses Hiroshi as an excuse saying he “dread[s] the shock it might give him, and I go on delaying” (44). Kaname is aware of Hiroshi’s knowledge of his failing marriage but because of his own cowardliness. Although Kaname’s relentlessness over the divorce may seem to be for the benefit of Hiroshi and Misako, it is in fact because of his own cowardly and indecisive nature.
Even though Misako is also in agreement for a divorce, her reasons for it are not shallow like Kaname’s. Misako’s unhappiness with the marriage is simply because of the lack of love Kaname shows her. When Misako confessed her affair with Aso, Kaname tells her, “‘I may not have been able to love you, but I’ve been careful not to use you for my won pleasure’” (101) to which Misako replies sobbing, “‘ I understand that – I’m even almost grateful for it. But I’ve wanted to be loved more than I have been, even if it meant being used” (101).
Misako’s feelings are apparent through her confession of only wanting love from Kaname but after this incident “deep in her heart she no longer hoped for any love from the husband who had withdrawn so from her” (101-102). Misako always made sure to still carry out her duties as a responsibly wife when she dresses Kaname in the morning (8), and when Takanatsu visits “she knew, and she should be up and about, entertaining him” (65). Through her duties as a wife, she shows the respect that she has for her husband. Misako also shows her respect when having a discussion with Takanatsu she explains that she pretends to be okay for Kaname. ‘Think how unpleasant it would be for him [Kaname]. And so I always find myself being very severe and proper in front of him’” (89). When Takanatsu advices her to confront Kaname she does not want to burden him with her problems, “‘I haven’t had a chance to. And, besides, it would do no good’” (91). Misako is very considerate of Kaname and his feelings even if that means bottling up her own troubles and keeping it to herself. Contrary to Misako’s sincere respect and consideration of Kaname, Kaname shows no such respect and displays only shallow reasons for their marriage failure.
Being a man, Kaname’s reasons are mostly because of his lack of sexual appeal toward Misako. In the beginning of their marriage, Kaname was able to find arousal through Misako’s fresh and young skin, “but the sad thing was that, since those early nights, her skin had quite lost its power to excite him” (9). Also differing from Misako’s narration of how she could not find reciprocated love from Kaname, he blames repeatedly, “they simply do not excite each other” (53). Kaname’s ideal woman is one that is either extremely motherly like or extremely loose like a courtesan (58-60).
His ideal of a woman is very much like a kid, wanting something that no one has or can be. Takanatsu establishes this, “‘almost anything can keep him occupied while it’s new, but when the novelty wears off he’ll have no more of it. He’s like a child with a toy’” (86). Even with Louise, Kaname’s mistress, he finds her appealing mostly because there is no one like her. Kaname’s friend says, “‘you would have a hard time finding a woman like her even in Paris’” (170) to which left a strong impression on Kaname. Throughout the novel, Kaname never explicitly showed any consideration toward Misako.
This is shown especially when Takanatsu asks Kaname if he ever properly met Aso, “‘how do you know he’s not a sex friend or a swindler out after Misako? ” (97). Kaname answers apathetically and dismisses the idea saying he trusts Misako’s decision. And instead of caring for Misako, Kaname only shows his passive character. “But in all honestly he had simply held a secret hope that something like this might happen” (100). His hope for Misako to find another man is a way Kaname can push the blame onto Misako for ruining the marriage instead of admitting his own faults. His passive attitude is not considerate of Misako’s feelings.
In the years since he married Misako he had been obsessed with one question: how to leave her” (60). Kaname dragged out a failing marriage even though he knew from the beginning he wanted to get out. For the years they have been married, Kaname has only thought of ideas of ending the marriage and strung along Misako, making her suffer and wait for the time her husband will finally learn to love her. The troubled marriage between Kaname and Misako is a complicated mix of both Kaname and Misako’s personal problems. Despite their personal problems, they try hard not to show it towards each other as a sign of respect and consideration.
Misako’s consideration of Kaname’s feelings is far stronger than Kaname’s of Misako’s feelings. Kaname care and consideration is simply a front to hide his own selfishness and self-absorbance whereas Misako sincerely cares about Kaname. In comparison to Kaname who never cared about Misako, Misako has always wanted Kaname to love her and by doing so she would have been satisfied with their marriage. Kaname’s feelings are more like a child’s; he wants something new and something that no one else has and searches for lust instead of care and love.