From Delicate to Empowered: Toshiko’s Character Evolution in “Swaddling Clothes” Michelle Dano ENGL 1302 Professor Schulz March 25, 2013 Imagine having the power to change one’s destiny. In Yukio Mishima’s story, “Swaddling Clothes”, the main character, Toshiko, toys with this idea. Mishima himself controlled his own destiny by committing suicide – an event that “Yukio Mishima had planned for over a year. ” Toshiko also plans to commit suicide in a sense by confronting an illegitimate child in twenty years to tell him of his unfortunate birth.
She decides that by doing this, the child, who will undoubtedly be a vagrant by this time, will attack her, rather than perhaps one day harming her own son. She believes that by putting herself in danger, she will be changing her son’s destiny. “Swaddling Clothes” is set in the 1950’s in Tokyo, Japan during “a time of gradual recovery for the nation. ” The country had suffered a huge blow from World War II. Many of its residents were becoming more westernized.
In “Swaddling Clothes” you see that westernization in Toshiko’s husband by his manner of dressing and in the way that he had decorated his home.
Toshiko feels alienated by her husband. The story begins with her husband sending her away in a taxi alone. She is hurt by him leaving her to return to their home where there are still bloodstains showing on the floor from her nurse, who had recently given birth to a child. Toshiko is quite shaken by the incident, but as the story progresses, her nature changes. In “Swaddling Clothes”, Toshiko’s character evolves from being delicate to empowered. At the beginning of the story, Toshiko appears to be a delicate person. Someone is delicate when she is weak and has low self-esteem.
Also, a delicate person will be fearful of everything. The author’s description of Toshiko in the beginning paragraphs illustrates her as a person with these qualities. The fact that her husband is the one to send her home in a taxi shows that she is weak and has low self-esteem. He tells the driver where to drop her off as if Toshiko is unable to direct him herself. Also, she “dread[s] going back to [her] house. ” This illustrates how she is overly fearful. Physically, she also shows the qualities of a delicate person.
She is frail and is even described as “[looking] more like a transparent picture than a creature of flesh and blood. ” All of these descriptions highlight her “delicacy of spirit [that] was evident to her most casual acquaintance. ” Overall, the author has introduced Toshiko as a delicate person, but with time she begins to change. Toshiko’s delicate nature first begins to change when she reflects on the birth of the illegitimate child on her living room floor. Upon reflecting on this incident, she goes from being weak and having low self-esteem to becoming stronger and more confident.
Going against the doctor’s explicit directions to wrap the newborn baby in newspapers, she decides to instead wrap the baby in “a brand-new piece of flannel”. By disobeying an oppressive authoritative figure to do a good deed, one would begin to feel good about herself for standing up to someone who is higher in rank. This, in turn, causes one to have higher self esteem. The doctor had attempted to shame the baby’s life by wrapping it in newspaper, but Toshiko refused to let the baby remain in such a state. Therefore, she overcomes her weakness.
At this point in the story, she has evolved from delicate to gaining more strength. After realizing she has overcome her weakness and has higher self esteem, Toshiko becomes more daring. She decides to get out of the taxi before her home, where her husband had directed the taxi to take her. She then “cross[es] the wide street—a slim, solitary figure in the darkness… [and] dart[s] alone between the cars” when previously she “used to cling fearfully to her companion” when walking through a street. Here she demonstrates overcoming a fear.
When one overcomes a fear, it gives oneself self-confidence. Self-confidence causes one to believe they can achieve new things and therefore causes one to become more daring. By showing the initiative to leave the taxi alone, she demonstrates that her nature has changed into a more fearless, daunting woman. Throughout the story, Toshiko has progressed from being delicate, to overcoming her weakness, then becoming more daring. By the end of the story, she is empowered. An empowered person is someone who takes responsibility for her actions. Someone who is empowered also serves her own interests.
Toshiko demonstrates these qualities when she fearlessly approaches a vagrant in the park. She has “an overmastering desire to get one glimpse of [his face]” and walks towards the man. Once the man grabs her, “she [does] not feel in the least afraid and [makes] no effort to free herself. ” She serves her own interests by approaching the man she has the desire to examine more closely and takes responsibility by not struggling against her attacker. Toshiko now exudes fearlessness and self-confidence – traits that she previously did not have.
Toshiko has changed dramatically by the end of “Swaddling Clothes. ” She is now an empowered woman, much different from the delicate person that she is at the beginning of the story. As she reflects on disobeying the doctor and wrapping the illegitimate child in flannel rather than newspapers, she gains strength in realizing she has overcome an oppressive authoritative figure. When she exits the taxi alone, she demonstrates fearlessness. By the end of the story, she stands strong against her attacker when a more delicate person would scream or try to set herself free.
The significance of this character’s transformation is that it offers hope. If such a weak-willed individual can gain so much strength in one evening of reflection, as Toshiko did, then others have the capacity to become empowered as well. Toshiko gains strength from the thought that she is protecting her son’s destiny by changing her own. Once one realizes she has the ability to transform her own destiny, anything is possible. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. “Yukio Mishima – Biography. The European Graduate School, accessed March 17, 2013. http://www. egs. edu/library/yukio-mishima/biography/ [ 2 ]. “History of Tokyo. ” Tokyo Metropolitan Government, accessed March 17, 2013. http://www. metro. tokyo. jp/ENGLISH/PROFILE/overview01. htm [ 3 ]. Yukio Mishima, translated by Ivan Morris, “Swaddling Clothes,” 101 Bananas, accessed February 21, 2013, http://www. 101bananas. com/library2/swaddling. html. [ 4 ]. Ibid [ 5 ]. Ibid [ 6 ]. Ibid [ 7 ]. Mishima, “Swaddling Clothes” [ 8 ]. Ibid [ 9 ]. Ibid [ 10 ]. Ibid
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