chapter  4
Women, humble men and insulted people in The Tale of the Heike
Pages 23

In this chapter we shall discuss the contrast between “respect for the strong” and “sympathy with the weak” in the war tale The Tale of the Heike, compiled in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries. In the previous chapter on Genji, I discussed the “admiration for the strong”, associated with the Wakamurasaki/Murasaki group, and “compassion for the weak”, associated with Hahakigi/Tamakazura group, as contradictory themes and motifs which then synthesise into the polyphony of the story as a whole. In this chapter, however, I shall contribute to text-based comparative research by examining how the strong-weak binary is differently narrated in the different texts of The Tale of the Heike. In terms of the great narratives of Japanese literature, The Tale of the Heike is regarded as being second only to The Tale of Genji (Miner, Odagiri and Morrell 1985: 49; Miller 1996: 313) and comparable only to that text in terms of its immeasurable influence on later Japanese literature. Helen Craig McCullough suggests that no single Japanese literary work has influenced so many writers in so many genres for so long a time as the Heike (McCullough 1988: 9). However, compared with the detailed attention given to The Tale of Genji in English-language scholarship, study of The Tale of the Heike is very limited.1 One of the obstacles hindering research was the existence of widely differing texts of the narrative. There was tacit agreement among scholars that before research, including English-language research, into the Heike could proceed it was necessary to clarify the relationship between extant texts and to reconstruct the original form of the narrative.