The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea


  • Glory and honour

The themes of glory and honour are central to the story, and Mishima explores these ideas mainly through the character Ryuji Tsukazaki.

When Ryuji is first introduced, he is strongly associated with gold, a colour which often has positive connotations of triumph, achievement, and royalty. Gold is often highly regarded and respected, and can symbolise higher ideals. This therefore casts Ryuji as a representation of ultimate glory and honour. Furthermore, it is emphasised that this is "authentic gold", hence removing negative connotations of artificiality and pretentiousness, as well as establishing that Ryuji exists in the real world, and is not simply an illusory dream. Gold could also be a symbol of masculine energy and power, which highlights Ryuji's manliness. This masculinity is a point of pride and honour – Ryuji reflected later in the novel on how the sailor's life "impelled (him) toward the pinnacle of manliness", and agonised over whether he could "give it up". This aligns with the author's ideals as well – Mishima had been obsessed with hyper-masculinity and had strived to attain it himself, as exemplified by his endeavours in body-building.

Ryuji's pursuit of glory deeply affects Noboru. For the thirteen-year-old Noboru, Ryuji is a hero, a "luminous evidence of the internal order of life". Noboru is therefore determined to protect the glorious image of Ryuji after he witnesses Ryuji making love with his mother ""If this is ever destroyed, it'll mean the end of the world." Noboru murmured, barely conscious. I guess I'd do anything to stop that, no matter how awful!" Noboru's obsession with Ryuji and the idea of glory he represents ultimately lead to Ryuji's murder.

Death is strongly associated with glory in Mishima's text. Mishima had said in one of his interviews: “It is natural for me to find it obscene that human beings live only for themselves. You might call this the boredom of living ... they get bored living just for themselves ... always think of living for some kind of ideal. Because of this, the need to die for something arises. That need is the “great cause” people talked about in the past. Dying for a great cause was considered the most glorious heroic or brilliant way of dying”[1] Thus in a certain way Mishima hereby personifies his ideology in Ryuji's character. When Ryuji was first introduced as an almost god-like figure, attention was drawn to his "dangerous, glittering gaze", hence firmly linking glory with danger, and by extension, death. Glory in the text is also found in the turbulence and uncertainty of the sea and in the danger of death that the sea may bring about: "They were consubstantial: glory and the capsized world. He longed for a storm".

Glory is presented as inherently dangerous in the novel, as evident in how Ryuji felt "glory knifing toward him like a shark from some great distance". The sharp violence and peril associated with knives, as well as the predatory nature of sharks, illustrates the great risks that came with the pursuit of glory.

When Ryuji gives up his Grand Cause and settles onto the land, he loses his life. Before his death, his thoughts drift back to the glory that he has longed to pursue: " Emperor palms. Wine palms. Surging out of the splendor of the sea, death had swept down on him like a stormy bank of clouds. A vision of death now eternally beyond his reach, majestic, acclaimed, heroic death unfurled its rapture across his brain. And if the world had been provided for just this radiant death, then why shouldn't the world also perish for it!"

  • Alienation

The theme of alienation is shown through the isolation of the characters Noboru and Ryuji Tsukazaki. The character Noboru is portrayed as isolated in the book as he seems to not understand all that going around him. The idea of westernisation is also brought into play as Noboru is seen as very traditional yet his mother is westernised, which is seen through a physical description of her room. In the physical description of Fusako's (Noboru's Mother) room, Mishima constantly refers back to where a certain element is imported from. Written through Noboru's perspective we can see that because he is not westernised and is still very much traditional to his culture he notices these elements- where the item is from. Through this separation due to westernisation the idea of Noboru being alienated is brought up as he is detached from even the closest person to him- his mother. In the book Mishima describes "Noboru couldn’t believe he was looking at his mother’s bedroom; it might have belonged to a stranger." Through this quote we can see that not only is he not close to his mother but that he feels as though his mother is a stranger which reinforces the idea of alienation.

The theme of alienation is highlighted also by the character Ryuji Tuskazaki due to his detachment to society. Mishima describes ‘’He grew indifferent to the lure of exotic lands. He found himself in the strange predicament all sailors share: essentially he belonged neither to the land nor to the sea. Possible a man who hates the land should dwell on shore forever." The phrase "belonged neither to the land nor to the sea" implicates the idea of alienation as there is only land and sea, but Tsukazaki belongs to neither which questions the reader where does he belong? As he does not feel as though he belongs to either and perhaps he belongs to this unknown place for himself it connotes the theme of alienation.

In conclusion, both Ryuji and Noboru feel detached to society, and in various degrees and for different reasons, they both try to relieve their isolation. In Fusako, Ryuji finds the anchor for which he has been searching, and moves quickly into the comfortable life of lover and father. Noboru has chosen to turn his loneliness to hatred and seek for strength using murder. The prevalence of alienation and loneliness as a theme can be linked back to Mishima’s own background. Not unlike Noboru and The chief, Mishima spent his childhood under the strict rule of his grandmother, while dreaming of a world in which Japan was restored to its original power and glory. Mishima’s dislike towards Japan’s westernization is reflected through “Chief’s contempt of adult nature.

  • Gender roles

The role of females in the novel seem sparse – the main female character is Fusako, who is the love interest of Ryuji and the mother of Noboru. In some ways, she is one of the most important characters in the novel as her relationship with Ryuji is the unbecoming of him in some ways. The balance of their relationship seems quite equal and Fusako is portrayed to be the perfect partner and housewife. She is also portrayed to be an independent woman who is doing better in her business than Ryuji is with his work. She is also seen to be diplomatic with her clients in her business. Male characters dominate the book, but most seem dependent or obsessed with some sort of notion – Ryuji with his quest for glory, Noboru and his need to conform to his ‘gang’s’ ideology, and the chief and his obsession with his ideas surrounding life. Males in the book also seem to be the characters who are pursuing a specific goal, unlike Fusako, who seems to be a static character throughout the novel.

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