Essay on The Quest for Beauty in The Tattooer by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

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Femme Fatale
In Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s short story “The Tattooer”, Tanizaki features an ambitious tattoo artist who yearns to create a masterpiece on the skin of his ideal woman. Initially, this woman is anticipated as the one who holds the potential to achieve the status of a twisted goddess. Moreover, the artist’s process of forging his masterpiece on this particular woman acts as a stepping-stone to his imminent demise; she is a lethal double-edged sword. The tattoo, which takes the form of a black widow, metaphorically transforms the woman into a Japanized “black widow” herself. Accordingly, the dual nature of woman is portrayed as timeless beauty and infinite destruction.
The main interest in this short story is further elucidated when
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This heightened potential is expressed in the passage, “Her beauty mirrored the dreams of the generations of glamorous men and women who had lived and died in this vast capital, where the nation’s sins and wealth were concentrated” (Tanizaki 101). There was only a missing piece in the puzzle which was the integration of the tattoo on the woman. The tattoo is the symbolic key in opening the gateway to transcendence. Additionally, there is another element which heightens this already excessive potential. This element is seen in picture scrolls in the painting of a beautiful Chinese princess. As expressed in the passage, “…a man who was about to be tortured in the garden below. He was chained hand and foot to a hollow copper pillar in which a fire would be lighted” (Tanizaki 101), these picture scrolls convey the idea of the woman being the physical reincarnation of the Chinese princess who possessed such tantalizing beauty which would inevitably lead to destruction. Needless to say, this direct similarity shows an increase in her promising potential, as she is connected to one with these qualities.
The emphasis on the artist’s imminent demise is further seen during the process of forging the masterpiece on the woman’s skin. The first sign of this demise is seen when the artist is metaphorically tattooing his “soul” into the woman, as evidenced by the passage, “He felt his spirit dissolve into the charcoal-black ink that strained her skin” (Tanizaki

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