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Contrast in The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea

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Set in the background of the culturally conflicting modern Japan, “The Sailor who fell from grace with the sea” is a story of contrast, which centers on the tragic life of three characters. From the structure of the novel in two parts entitled, suggestively, “Summer” and “Winter”, to the significant descriptions of the environments presented in the novel, land and sea, the narrative is plagued with evidences of striking differences between two cultures: the western and the eastern one.

To both expose his own personal views on the world he lives in and to carry important themes such as the fulfillment of love through death, the relationship between a child and his parent and the undying search for glory, Yukio Mishima carefully constructs his heroes around dissimilarities that prove to be, ultimately, the driving force of the plot.

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As the complexity of the characters is the main trait of this work of fiction, it would be only sensible to analyze the concept of contrast from such a perspective.

To serve the aforementioned analytical purpose one has to investigate the psychological nature and the actions of the three protagonists: Noburu, Fusako, and Ryuji.

Presented as a mere child that has not yet reached his adolescent years, Noburu is, or at least wants to be, the epitome of the traditional man. To accomplish this desire, the character associates himself with a gang of juvenile delinquents that wish to preserve the long-established customs of traditional Japan. The gang, ruled by an erratically bitter chief, apparently fights the anomie of the modern society but, ironically, they are the first to succumb in a world of no moral values. The protagonist, by being a part of this group, is inoculated with their ideas and beliefs and stands as a contrast to the other two main characters that have more flexible views on tradition. While Noburu, nihilistic by nature, struggles to lead a traditional life based on the code of honor, developing some absurd notions for his tender age, as not crying: “he never cried, not even in his dreams, for heart hardness was a point of pride”, his mother and Ryuji are more prone to show their feelings and embrace the westernized style of life.

Whether Noburu acts as a nemesis is debatable and clearly related to the theme of contrast in the novel, as the character supposedly fights for a noble cause. Yet so, his idea of a noble cause undoubtedly differs from what the other two protagonists consider righteous. While the two mature characters seek glory or mere happiness through love, Noburu has the pessimistic idea of only being able to gain honor through death. Not completely sane, Noburu is in himself a contrast. While he wants to display only hardened, manly traits, he is deeply affectionate of his mother and the world she lives in: “if this is ever destroyed, it will mean the end of the world”.

Completely opposite to her son’s disposition, having much simpler desires and flexible cultural views, Fusako is an apparent contrast to Noburu, which is clearly shown by the environment they each live in. While in Fusako’s bedroom “femininity trembled in every corner, a faint scent lingered in the air”, Noburu’s chamber is “drab and familiar, the room bore no resemblance with the mysterious chamber”. Being the perfect example of a modern, emancipated Japanese woman, throughout the story Fusako displays little care for tradition as she lives in a westernized way: “the house had been requisitioned by the Occupation Army”. Despite her being visibly modern and a rather flat character throughout the story, Fusako is a protagonist that, like Noburu , displays some items of contrast in her personality.

Mishima has skillfully used clothes to both give his heroine a round character and an air of femininity and to emphasize the existence of inner contrast in her nature. Mostly, Fusako is wearing western clothes, but when she sees Ryuji for the last time at the end of the first part of the book, “Summer”, she chooses “a cotton yukata so that Ryuji could have a last look at a woman in a kimono”. Whether she did that for lovers benefit or to reinforce in his mind the notion that she is different from any other woman, is highly debatable. The mere fact that Fusako decided to take that action accounts for her respect of a tradition and culture that she previously chose not to follow, and thus proves the contrasting nature of both her actions and character. To a metaphorical level, strictly connected with the theme of land and sea in the novel, the female protagonist is a representation of land. Because of her need of stability and, most of all, safety she becomes the illustration of the “prison” that Ryuji hates, and ironically, through being affectionate to Fusako, loves at the same time.

Caught between the two worlds of tradition and modernism, represented by the other heroes, it would be safe to state that Ryuji is the novel’s most contrasting protagonist. Furthermore, he is also the one whose convictions are influenced by the dissimilarities of the other protagonists, who he constantly tries to appease. An ideologist, Ryuji is a spirit that is immersed in a perpetual search for glory: “There must be some special destiny in store for me; a glittering, special-order kind no ordinary man would be permitted” and mergers his idea of glory with the ones of the two other main characters. Like Fusako, who proves that immense happiness can only be achieved through love, Ryuji wants love and is decided to fulfill his idea of glory through love. On the other hand, Ryuji also, in some aspects, identifies with Noburu who believes that glory and honor can only be attained through death.

Confirming that he, to some extent, is the perfect fusion between the other character’s guiding philosophy he clearly realizes that his love for Fusako will mean death: “the kiss was death; the very death in love he always dreamed of”, foreshadowing the tragic d�nouement of the novel. Because of his willingness to appease the other two protagonists and his misconception of Noburu’s dogma of stoicism, he proves to be a tragic hero, who, in spite of his cruel end, ironically becomes the only character in the book that has fully realized his destiny: “Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff”. Throughout the novel Ryuji has proved that not only does he have the disposition to combine the distinct conflicting philosophies of the other protagonists but he also dreads the divergent nature of things, a brief example being his inability to choose between land and sea, love and adventure, a pathetic existence and glory.

All in all, by using such complex and dissimilar characters, the author manages to convey his impressions on the cultural environment in modern Japan and also express his own individuality. At a closer look, Mishima’s contrasting personality would reveal traits that are present in the characterization of his heroes and that make them so vividly real. By using personal experiences and trying to communicate his private beliefs through his protagonists, Mishima’s characters become more that mere people in a book. They become human beings with feelings, and the contrasting factors that the author uses is what makes them fully attain an extraordinary level of reality.

Cite this Contrast in The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea

Contrast in The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea. (2017, Nov 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/contrast-sailor-fell-grace-sea/

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