What do Mishima's views on gender appear to be in The Sound of Waves?
Although certain elements of Mishima's own life cannot be ignored when answering this question – namely, his repressed homosexuality and creation of a militant, all-male nationalist army – his views on gender are not easily discerned. His protagonist is a male who desires a "good-natured, beautiful bride" (25). He is not looking for an equal or a woman of intellect. Men have most of the power in this novel; they leave the island, control the fates of others, make money, and discuss politics. Men like Terukichi and Shinji are lauded for their physical strength and masculinity. The women of the island perform the onerous duty of drawing water even if it is late in the evening, as well as endure the pains of childbirth and the difficulties of maintaining a home. They are stereotypically gossipy. Hatsue, the most prominent female character, is a typical polite, virginal, meek, and sweet bride for Shinji, as well as one that suffers from the male gaze throughout the novel. Most telling is that Shinji's mother is never even given a name; she is completely defined by her position as a mother, though Mishima gives her an opportunity to lament her situation. However, Mishima is clearly not a misogynist. Not all of the female characters are passive, and Chiyoko endeavors to attain a university education. Mishima does not go through with the rape of Hatsue, for she resists Yasuo's attack and amounts to more than a mere victim. Overall, Mishima's views on gender are not easily summarized; he retains clear ideas on the roles of men and women in society but deviates from them in some ways.
How does the character of Shinji evolve throughout the novel?
When the reader is first introduced to Shinji, it is clear that this young man, while quite appealing and possessed of many positive traits, is not particularly ambitious or intellectual. He does not experience many dramatic emotions or desire to expand his mind. His greatest goal is to own a fishing boat with his brother and fish the familiar waters off of Uta-jima. He does not care about literature or politics or art or music; his is an existence that is firmly rooted in the natural world. When he meets Hatsue this all begins to change; a rather disconcerting realization of the outside world comes pressing upon him. A wave of new emotions sweeps over him; these events are both wondrous and terrifying. As the relationship progresses he continues to evolve, and by the time the captain of the Utajima-maru offers him an apprenticeship, he accepts out of a fervent wish to finally encounter the unknown. This new freedom is exhilarating and forever alters his quiet existence.
How is the natural environment of the island described?
The island is given more descriptive passages than many of the characters are. Mishima begins his novel with these words: "Uta-jima – Song Island – has only about fourteen hundred inhabitants and a coastline of something under three miles. The island has two spots with surpassingly beautiful views" (3). He describes the waves, the waters, the reefs. He depicts the height and wild rocky stillness of the mountain, the romantic ruins of the tower, and the depths of the green forests. The young boys on the island play in a large, mysterious cave, while the island women dive into the depths of the clear water off the shores of the beach. The lighthouse commands gorgeous views of the gulf and the seas beyond, complete with sparkling lights and passing ships. The island is relatively undeveloped and untouched by modernity. It has an electric generator but it was often powerless. There were only four streetlamps on the island, and the dwellings were few and far between. Overall, the island is rural, but in a simple and pastoral way. It is timeless and strikingly beautiful, providing and protecting its inhabitants, and providing an appropriate setting for a simple, pastoral love story where nature is a primary character in its own right.
How is historical context used in the novel?
The novel was written in 1954 and appears to take place during that year or just a bit before. WWII has ended. There are a few references to that conflict, such as the tower being used for observation and Shinji's father dying when attacked by an airplane. The most conspicuous piece of information regarding the time frame in which the novel is set is when Shinji is out on the coastal freighter. This is no surprise, of course, since the island appears to exist in a timeless, eternal, and untouched state and only when one ventures outside of it can they reassert themselves in the tide of history. Shinji gazes out at the port of Unten where the American forces landed during the war, and Mishima offers the readers this: "The Korean war had come to an end for the time being. From morning to night there was the droning thunder of fighter planes practicing...beside the road, the prefabricated houses for families of the American military personnel were aglint with the color of new cement..." (156). This is the first and only time Mishima is this explicit about the historical context of the novel. However, The Sound of Waves is not intended to be a historical novel; rather, time and place do not matter in this idyllic and timeless tale of first love and awakening—nature and the island are what matter, and historical context is only a minor part of the characters’ lives.
What are Mishima's tone and style?
Mishima's prose is notably lucid, spare, and simple. He shies away from verbosity and density, preferring to say in a few words what he means rather than belabor it with language. He evokes a scene or a character with beautiful brevity. His words flow and glide across the page, often presenting momentous events in a quick and luminous fashion. His style is characterized by tighter, smaller sentences. As for his tone, it is passive, non-judgmental, and earthy. He does not seem particularly involved in his characters' lives or fortunes, although there is a tacit suggestion of approval of Shinji and Hatsue's love. He delivers his information on their naivete without much condescension. In regards to the earthiness, he is often invoking nature or describing things in terms of the natural world.
What is life like for the characters on the island of Uta-jima?
Life is somewhat similar for most of the island inhabitants, although the very rich – Terukichi and Yasuo, for example – have some assets and advantages that the poorer families do not. Most inhabitants get their living from the sea, such as the diving women and the fishermen. Most live in small, rickety houses. There is some religious sentiment present; most inhabitants seem to pray to the island gods at the shrine and try to live their lives according to a moral code, which may have as much to do with the propensity of the villagers to gossip as it does with religion. History and tradition are deeply steeped in the lives of Uta-jima's inhabitants. Most of them are not particularly concerned with the outside world, preferring to either forget or ignore the unknown world away from the familiar coasts of their island. Both men and women indulge in community activities; young men join the Young Men's Association and also join their elders at the public bathhouse, while the diving women enjoy each other's fellowship on the job. Men and women also have very defined jobs and duties. Gossip is a powerful force on the small, isolated island and can tend to drive events.
How does Shinji demonstrate his worth and secure the happy ending he desired?
Shinji's positive characteristics are made known to the reader early in the novel; he is "tall and well-built beyond his years...his dark eyes were exceedingly clear, but their clarity was not that of intellectuality – it was a gift that the sea bestows upon those who make their livelihood upon it..." (6). He can swim great distances and best nearly anyone in tests of physical strength. He is honest, sturdy, forthright, courageous, and dependable. All of these qualities come to the fore when he serves as an apprentice on the Utajima-maru. He not only works extremely hard on his own tasks, but covers up for Yasuo's laziness as well, even though they are rivals. During the massive storm off of Okinawa Shinji demonstrates remarkable valor in volunteering to dive into the ocean and re-anchor the ship to a buoy. His personal traits combined with his excellent performance upon the ship convince Terukichi that this young man is an apposite choice for a husband for his daughter. His class does not matter in light of his "get-up-and-go;" Shinji is the type of man that the island needs. By never compromising his sense of personal dignity and morality, Shinji triumphs in the end. Mishima rewards his young protagonist in an unqualified manner.
How is the world outside of Uta-jima conceived?
Not much information concerning the outside world trickles into the narration. Only the characters of Chiyoko, who is studying at a Tokyo university; Yasuo, who often runs errands for the Co-operative; and Terukichi, who is a wealthy businessman, regularly leave the island. Chiyoko for one misses the mainland; she ruminates on "the Tokyo where, even on such a stormy day, the automobiles went back and forth as usual, the elevators went up and down, and the streetcars bustled along. There in the city all nature had been put into uniform, and the little power of nature that remained was an enemy" (79). Whereas Chiyoko and Yasuo seem to delight in the outside world, Terukichi is more ambivalent. While he has connections to the "unknown," he much prefers the island itself (indeed, he is deemed a personification of the island) and is always concerned with its well-being. Hiroshi and his friends visit the mainland, but they are unimpressed by its sights and sounds and prefer to repress such confusing and provocative experiences in favor of returning to a comfortable, known existence where one does not have to articulate emotions and thoughts. As for Shinji, he perceives the outside world to be slightly scary and disconcerting, but grows to embrace the unknown as his love for Hatsue expands his mind. Generally, however, the outside world is barely paid any regard by the inhabitants of the island.
What is the character of Shinji's mother like?
Shinji's mother, while denied an actual name, is nevertheless an important character in the novel. She is both emotional – tearing up at Hiroshi's letter, bursting out in anger at Shinji a few times, spontaneously going to to Terukichi's house and then leaving in angry shame – as well as rational and non-judgmental – accepting Shinji's explanation of his relationship with Hatsue, not getting too involved in the affairs of the village inhabitants, etc. She also offers the most telling information about what life is like for most women on the island; she feels acutely her poverty, her tiredness, the pains of childbirth, the loss of her husband, the imminent loss of her sons to adulthood, the difficulties of women's work and duties, and the desire to be sexually active once more while being denied the opportunity due to personal ethical standards. She is both dynamic and static, passive and aggressive.
How does religion factor into the novel?
Religion is alluded to several times in The Sound of Waves, but it is not explicitly addressed or fashioned as a particularly important component to life on Uta-jima. Yashiro Shrine is a lovely and scenic site on the island that Mishima describes as one of the most aesthetically pleasing upon the island. It is often a meeting place for the characters. Shinji addresses the island god in the most conspicuous way when he asks for his life's dream to come to fruition, for protection for his mother and brother, and for a wife like Hatsue. At the end of the novel the two young lovers, whose engagement has finally been announced, thank the island gods at the shrine for their good fortune. However, the true divine force in the novel seems to be the island itself. The island displays its might and its benevolence, the latter especially in regards to the lovers.