Abandonment: Referencing the Characters Nomi Nickel from Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, and Chiyo from Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha


Abandonment is a mother bird deserting her baby chick after its first flight. Leaving a loved one to fend for itself on its own, results in confusion and heartache. Yet, if an individual can overcome the adversities of abandonment, they will become a much stronger human being. Abandonment occurs in both Miriam Toews’, A Complicated Kindness, and Arthur Golden’s, Memoirs of a Geisha. The characters situations and families play a large role as a result of their abandonment, the same as when a mother bird forsakes her baby chick to survive on its own. It was how these novels’ characters were able to cope with this abandonment to become a stronger person. Throughout both novels, the readers can truly understand A Complicated Kindness’, Nomi’s, and Memoirs of a Geisha’s, Chiyo’s pain, through the many images portrayed, connecting their personal struggles to many other similar circumstances. Abandonment is truly a tragic loss, but like a baby chick you must learn to cope, move forward, and be able to survive on your own.

A Complicated Kindness’, Nomi Nickel, and Memoirs of a Geisha’s, Chiyo, were born into two very different families, yet arrived at similar obstacles. Nomi, was born into a Mennonite community, where their values and traditions were obey and be submissive. Her father Ray always planned ahead, never accepting any change in his or his family’s life. “Every single night around ten o’clock Ray tells me that he’s hitting the hay. Along the way to his bedroom he’ll stop in the front hallway and place notes on top of his shoes to remind him of the things he has to do the next day.” (Toews, 1)

The way Nomi describes her father’s life, does not sound very appealing, but rather predictable and boring. Throughout this novel Ray appears to be a habitual and very stern man. Nomi’s mother, Trudy, and sister, Tash, always wished for a better life, where they could be free to do as they pleased. Living a planned life however, forced them to leave their family. Once Trudy and Tash left, all Nomi had was her father, who would continuously fight with her. Nomi, now on her own, disobeyed the rules that were put forth by the Mennonite Council, making Ray seem like a terrible father, in the eyes of the elders. Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist who are committed to nonviolence, nonviolent resistance/ reconciliation, and pacifism. After living in a Mennonite Community for fifteen years, Nomi was accustomed to going to church every Sunday, living in separation from the world and social nonconformity, and attending their own community school. Here, among her peers, she would learn more detailed information regarding the Mennonite’s values and customs.
“Mennos are discouraged from going to the city, forty miles down the road, but are encouraged to travel to the remotest corners of third world countries with barrels full of Gideon Bibles and hairnets.”(Toews, 4)

Nomi’s family, as well as the rest of the Mennonite Community, always stays together, living as one. They frowned upon those who left their community as the Mennonites view this as abandonment and ungratefulness. Nomi and the other children her age were expected to participate in third world countries where they could commit a self-less act by aiding those who were in desperate need of help. When Nomi’s mother and sister left, she knew they could never return as the entire community had felt deserted and placed shame on the family. As Nomi fights to understand why her mother and sister truly left, she finds herself confused and suffering from a broken heart. Similar to Nomi, Chiyo also suffered from an injustice family. After receiving news that Chiyo’s mother was dying, her father was in favor of sending her to live in Gion. Her father agreed to have her sold to an Okiya (Geisha House) at the young age of eight, where she began training. As her family began to fall apart, with her mother slowly dying, Chiyo was all alone. Once in Okiya, among many other older girls who were all competing to become the “best” Geisha, here these girls were expected to represent poise and elegance: a true Geisha. This Geisha house became Chiyo’s new family, as she never saw her father again, making this her true home. Chiyo was abandoned as a child; however, her father felt it was best for her to leave, instead of suffering a terrible life of working in a factory. Her father sent her away so she could receive the best life possible, not realizing that he was loosing his daughter during the death of his wife. Forcing Chiyo to live among strangers, made her feel so alone and deserted. “But to learn in a single moment that both my mother and my father had died and left me, and that my sister too was lost to me forever…at once my mind felt like a broken vase that would not stand. I was lost even within the room around me.” (Golden, 103)

When Chiyo found out that both her parents were dead, she felt completely and utterly abandoned. She feels she was taken away for a better life, yet in return, felt deserted, shamed, and alone. Unlike Nomi, Chiyo did not have a choice to see her parents, once she was settled in the Geisha house; she was not permitted to leave. Nomi was fortunate enough to follow her true instincts, despite her father, and find her mother and sister. When Chiyo was sent to Gion, she had no one near her, as her father resided with her mother in the small fisherman town, with her sister. Both Nomi and Chiyo came from very different families, however Nomi still had her father throughout this incredibly difficult time, whereas Chiyo had no one, but the memories of her past.

Although abandonment is a terrible thing, both Nomi and Chiyo were able to cope with their difficult circumstances in various ways and this made them become a stronger human being. Once Trudy and Tash left, Nomi decided to find out why her mother and sister left. After traveling to the city and re-reading her mother’s note, she concluded that it was not because of her that she left; it was her personal choice to be set free. Trudy felt like a bird held captive, where it is only a matter of time before it would be set free. “Like I said, I don’t know where she is, but I imagine different scenarios. The scenarios that I imagine most often involve my mother, with a passport in her hand, traveling around the world. That’s why I was so profoundly disappointed to find her passport in her top drawer. That discovery posed the hateful question of where she might be if not somewhere in the world.” (Toews, 54)

After being abandoned by her mother and sister, Nomi was so confused and felt as though her world was rapidly deteriorating, not realizing at the time that this would make her a stronger and forceful young woman. She was suffering from a broken heart and to make matters worse, she had no idea of where her mother and sister were. After spending time reflecting why her mother left, Nomi arrived at the conclusion that it was not her fault. She surprisingly turned a terrible and disastrous situation into a positive and life experience. As she grew older and wiser, she understood that she was not the reason as to why her mother had abandoned her. Nomi had great self-esteem about herself and finally realized that her mother was a selfish woman who did whatever she wished. This abandonment that Nomi suffered from, made her become a strong and independent individual. She no longer worried where her mother and sister were, as she knew that they were happy and so was she. “Wherever my mother and sister are, I hope they miss me and I can see them one day. All that matters to me is that they are happy and doing the things they love.”(Toews, 189)

Nomi truly grew into a much stronger human being, despite her painful situation. When Trudy and Tash deserted her and Ray, Nomi felt as though she could never forgive them and would never wanted to see them ever again. As the novel progressed we see Nomi develop into a kind hearted and forgiving person who suffered a great loss, but in the end gained so much more. She gained independence, love, happiness, and the ability to trust again. Nomi went about her life as though she had lost nothing, she continued to go to school, furthered her secondary education to become a teacher, and grew even closer with her father. Throughout the journey of her life, she was able to conquer her deepest emotions and channel them towards her education, where she could make the best of her life. Similar to Nomi and her growth throughout this experience, Chiyo too was able to become a much stronger individual. After the death of her mother and father she knew that there was nowhere to go, but ahead in life. Terrified and alone, Chiyo was able to become one of the most famous Geishas in Gion. After feeling deserted by her family, she knew that they made her leave for Gion so that she could have a better and more satisfying lifestyle. “Chiyo, Geishas are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place of beauty. The very word ‘Geisha’ means artist and to be a Geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art. I very am proud of you.”(Golden, 134)

Chiyo began as a terrified and shy young girl who believed the word friendship and family meant nothing. As she suffered the great loss of both parents she finally understood that her parents just wanted their daughter to succeed and life a great life. For so many years Chiyo felt her mother and father had disowned her as they were shamed by her, making her feel a harsh reality of abandonment. As the years progressed, she coped with her desertion, where she became one of the best Geishas. She was able to deal with her pain with her music and realizing the truth as to why her parents did what they did. Chiyo grew to become a beautiful, young woman who saw the life her parents wanted for her. Instead of being harsh on herself for the abandonment of her mother and father, she forced herself to move on and be the best she could be for the sake of her parents. Although Chiyo and Nomi were both able to cope with their abandonment issues, they were both in different scenarios. Nomi only lost her mother and sister, but still had the company of her father, whereas Chiyo lost her father, mother, and sister. Chiyo was forced to leave her family, as her parents felt she deserved a much better life than she had. Nomi’s mother and sister chose to leave, as they disliked their Mennonite lifestyle. Although these two characters went through different scenarios, they were still able to conquer their true feelings and deal with their inflicted pain to become the person they grew into.

Both Miriam Toews and Arthur Golden aided their readers to understand what abandonment is like by using various forms of stylistic imagery. Miriam Toews’, A Complicated Kindness, used many forms of dark and cynical images.

“There’s an invisible force that exerts a steady pressure on our words like a hand to an open, spurting wound.”(Toews, 4)
Toews uses the invisible force field as a way for her readers to understand that when living in a Mennonite community you are expected to remain there for the rest of your life, enticing Trudy and Tash to leave, as they were opposed to this type of lifestyle. Toews uses alienated imagery as well as silences to show why Nomi’s mother and sister left as they could not handle their life style any longer. “This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy and I wonder if a person an ever die from it!”(Toews, 4)

Once again Toews uses another form of silent imagery and compares it with death to really enhance how Trudy and Tash felt, making Nomi as well as her readers appreciate why they decided to abandon their family, which made Nomi a stronger human being. As terrible as it was for her mother and sister to leave, we can visualize how strict and quiet this town is, making most people feel very uncomfortable and bored of their lifestlye. While Arthur Golden’s, Memoirs of a Geisha, described how a Geisha looks and how their overall appearance can be very transparent, where the readers can see their true pain.
“Her face was painted a kind of rich white, like the wall of a cloud when lit by the sun.” (Golden, 102)

Golden uses rich description to bring the Geisha of Gion to life for his readers to allow the pain and heartache grasp our attention. Geishas are meant to look seductive, yet elegant, and serious yet, happy. The way Golden makes Chiyo look, symbolizes that she is wearing a mask on top of her face that hides her from her past. This mask helps Chiyo pretend to be a different person, not the girl from the fishing village where her father gave her away to come to Gion. Golden makes all Gion’s Geishas look beautiful and graceful, representing all of the features a Geisha should offer. However, his readers learn that Chiyo is not happy, as she has just suffered the loss of both her mother and father, bringing about more emotions of abandonment. When Chiyo looks in the mirror she sees the lost girl who is confused and puzzled as to where she belongs. Painting her face, Chiyo feels hope and happiness because she does not focus on the abandonment of her family; instead she realizes her beauty and many talents enabling her to become an amazing Geisha. Both Toews and Golden have different writing styles, where Toews uses dark and cynical imagery to get her point across. Golden uses happy and uplifting imagery in a attempt to allow his characters to appear a certain way, contrary to their real emotions.

Both Nomi and Chiyo were victims who suffered from abandonment, but were fortunate to overcome these adversities. Overcoming these obstacles that were caused by their abandonment truly made them become a much stronger individual. Just the same as when a mother bird abandons her baby chick after first flight, she leaves it to survive on its own. This teaches the bird to quickly become independent, allowing it to become stronger on it is own. Both Nomi and Chiyo’s families affected the harsh reality of their abandonment. It was how they dealt with their inflicted pain to become stronger in the end. In order for Toews’ and Golden’s readers to be well aware as to what emotions these characters were feeling, they used many forms of imagery to depict these characters deepest thoughts and feelings. As terrible and selfish as abandonment truly is, it really does help to make a person become stronger in the end!