Akutagawa's Rashomon is a fascinating tale about the nature of human behavior in extreme circumstances. I believe it is also an analysis of choice being forced on the Japanese people by the thoroughgoing changes taking place in the early twentieth century. The reactions and decisions of the samurai's servant seemed puzzling at first. I wondered what would make the author want to write about the emergence of human being's dark side when faced with dire circumstances. I began to think perhaps the author was commenting on the effects of industrialization, the adoption of foreign culture and the rapid disappearance of traditional Japanese culture and customs. A second read of the story confirmed my suspicions when I began to focus on the author's frequent references to the "unknown- as "evil."" I believe the unknown can be considered to be the foreign customs and ethics that were being rapidly brought into Japan. The conflict depicted is an illustration of the competing influences of traditional feudal ethics and customs and the new ethics and customs necessary for survival in an industrial society. .
The author sets the story in a time that is, in many ways, analogous to early twentieth century Japan. In Rashomon, there was a great deal of social trouble taking place and the samurai for who the servant had worked for many years had let him go. In the early twentieth century, the times were rapidly changing and the closed feudal society, which had been in place for hundreds of years, had been rapidly abolished. Both the servant, and the society in which Akutagawa lived, were facing a future radically different from what they were accustomed to, and fraught with unknown and uncertainty. The story finds the servant contemplating becoming a thief to survive. This is a choice that is contrary to the ethics of his former life in the employment of a Samurai, and he is apprehensive about making it.