This fascinating story is the account of a samurai’s murder given to a high police commissioner from the perspective of a woodcutter, a traveling Buddhist priest, a policeman, an old woman, the man’s wife, and the murdered man himself (through a medium). As you read, you think that the story will become clear; each person’s revelation should surely uncover the truth about what was found in the grove.
Except each person’s testimony only confuses the story further. With every account the blame shifts, the details change, the culprit becomes someone entirely new, until by the end of the story we have less clarity than when we began.
I used to ask my mother how something could be true. “If I remember a Christmas holiday happening this way, and my brother has a totally different memory of it happening that way, what is the truth?” (I once expected the world to be definable, to be constant, to fit within my understanding. She was rarely daunted in her explanations.)
“What happened is the truth for you,” she replied. And thus I became aware that there is no such thing as an absolute truth.
I think that this is what Akutagawa is pointing at. As humans we have little ability to see clearly. To see objectively. To even see from another person’s perspective. We see with our own limited vision, often with blinders on, and asking for the truth becomes an impossibility.
You can read the story for free, here.