Surrounded though he was by the vast ocean, Shinji did not especially burn with impossible dreams of great adventure across the seas. His fisherman's conception of the sea was close to that of the farmer for his land.
Mishima makes it clear that Shinji is not particularly intelligent, nor concerned much with the outside world at the outset of the novel. He does not have grandiose dreams or a burning desire to get off of the island. He does not seem interested in literature or politics, and spends his time daydreaming of his life goal of becoming a master fisherman like Jukichi. Even this dream, however, is relatively small, for he does not endeavor to sail the vast oceans and travel to exotic and unknown locales; rather, he enjoys knowing his own plot of sea the way a farmer knows his own plot of land. When he speaks with Hatsue at length for the first time, he details his respect and love for the sea and his goals for himself. Later in the novel, Shinji does acquire a taste for freedom and the outside world as a result of the changes worked upon him by his first experience of love, but it is likely that his future will keep him on or near Uta-jima.
Shinji well knew how sharp the villagers' tongues could be. Hatsue promised not to tell. Thus their well-founded fear of the village's love of gossip changed what was but an innocent meeting into a thing of secrecy between the two of them.
Uta-jima is a small, isolated island. There are not many leisure and entertainment opportunities, so naturally gossip achieves a heightened significance. It is essentially gossip, spread by the jealous Yasuo and Chiyoko, that keeps Hatsue and Shinji apart. Terukichi hears of his daughter's dalliance and forbids her to see Shinji. Gossip swirls about the Young Men's Association, the women's gatherings, and the bathhouse. The difference in social class seems to be enough to prevent the relationship between the young lovers. This is apparent at their first meeting, explained in this quote; both of them are aware of how the village will talk about their meeting, even though at the time it is innocuous. Simply walking and talking is outside the scope of what is proper and respectable. Tradition and deference to social norms rule on Uta-jima, and Shinji and Hatsue are defenseless before them.
He was so healthy that he had never had any sickness other than the measles. He could swim the circumference of Uta-jima as many as five times without stopping. And he was sure he would have to yield to no one in any test of physical strength.
Many of Mishima's novels deal with the dialectics of mind and body; he is consistently seeking a way to reconcile the two in his protagonists, who are mostly young men. In this novel, he makes it clear that Shinji is not an intellectual. He is certainly not stupid, and has a natural intuition and curiosity about many things that makes him an appealing character. Nevertheless, his true abilities rest in his physical body. He is an excellent swimmer and has tremendous endurance. His body is strong and healthy; he has never even been sick for a day. He could fight nearly any man on the island (although he was not of violent temperament) and best him. His profession is labor-intensive and done using his young and healthy body. His physical body is also often in tune with the natural environment, giving him a sense of strength and power. While an apprentice on Terukichi's ship, his physical act of tying the ship to the buoy during a storm is what finally gains him the old man's approval. Clearly, the power of the physical body is paramount in this novel.
The boy felt a consummate accord between himself and this opulence of nature that surrounded him. He inhaled deeply, and it was as though a part of the unseen something that constitutes nature had permeated the core of his being...it was doubtless because nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life.
Nature herself is an important character in this novel. The characters inhabit the natural world of the island; it is a nearly premodern, timeless, and pastoral environment. Mishima writes of storms and waves and stars and insects and caves and fish and rain and many more natural entities. Shinji inhabits the island in the fullest way possible; he is often described in a manner that presents him as one with nature. In this quote he is reveling in the power and strength and magnificence of the natural world as he perambulates the isle waiting to meet Hatsue. Even the foulest weather does not frighten him, but instead enervates and inspires him. The study of nature and her vicissitudes and vagaries replaces the study of books or people for Shinji. He has "music in his everyday life" because of nature. Nature even seems to bless his relationship with Hatsue.
The sea -- it only brings the good and right things that the island needs...and keeps the good and right things we already have here...That's why there's not a thief on the whole island -- people who always have the will to work truly and well and put up with whatever comes -- people whose love is never double-faced -- people with nothing mean about them anywhere...
Shinji speaks to Hatsue of the sea and his reverence and respect for it. The sea is not merely a beautiful natural force that surrounds the island; it is life-giving in a myriad of ways. It provides sustenance. It provides jobs. It provides beauty. It provides protection and security. The sea is powerful and magnanimous, and Shinji cannot fathom a life that is spent away from it. His professional goal is to own his own fishing boat and work with his brother. He firmly believes that the sea is a force of good, and explains that there are no thieves or other cruel people upon the island because the sea takes care of the island's inhabitants and preserves virtue and morality. At the end of the novel Shinji faces the sea in a more direct manner when he volunteers to tie the ship to a buoy during a powerful storm. Although the sea is treacherous and strong, it does not consume Shinji. He bests the storm by accomplishing his goal, which eventually results in Terukichi's approval and Hatsue's hand in marriage.
But probably the way she brooded over her commonplace face as being so unlovely was just as presumptuous as if she had been convinced she was an utter beauty.
Chiyoko is one of the most compelling characters in the novel due to the realistic way in which she is drawn and the varying feelings elicited by her actions and thoughts. When she is first introduced to the reader, it is very clear that she is encumbered by tremendously low self-esteem. She is convinced that she has an ugly face; while this may not be entirely true, her conviction that it is so has permeated her psyche and has even influenced her father's way of regarding her. This belief of her ugliness is tied to her virginity in that her self-righteousness regarding both leads her to commit deeds that result in others' unhappiness. Eventually, however, she redeems herself by making her mother do something to help secure the reunion of Shinji and Hatsue. This comes about after Shinji gives her what she has been waiting for—a compliment calling her pretty. This young girl's damaged ego is finally repaired, at least for the time being.
"It's all because I'm poor," Shinji said.
The class structure in The Sound of Waves may not be overt or dramatic, but it is absolutely present. There are poor people as well as rich people that inhabit the island. Shinji and his family fall into the former category, whereas Yasuo and Hatsue and her family fall into the latter. The poor families live in small, sparse, and smelly houses while the rich families have more luxurious accommodations (even though they are not incredibly opulent). The children from rich families have more opportunities than the children of poor families. And ultimately, the difference in class is the main reason why Terukichi refuses to allow his daughter to see Shinji. He is a poor fisherman who, in Terukichi's opinion, is unworthy of his daughter's hand. When Shinji concedes to Ryuji and Jukichi that it is his poverty that keeps him apart from Hatsue, he is immediately ashamed that he uttered the words. He is aware of his poverty but refuses to seek pity or sympathy from others. Remarkably, Shinji's abilities and virtues lead Terukichi to change his mind and allow Shinji to marry his daughter. The boundaries between the classes are more fluid in this novel than in many others.
"I'm free!" he shouted in his heart. This was the first time he had ever realized there could be any sort of freedom as this.
The Sound of Waves is not only a love story; it is also a coming of age tale. Shinji is young, untutored, and sheltered. He knows nothing of the outside world and is slightly scared of the vastness of the world beyond the isolated Uta-jima. He has no desire to expand his ken or take on a profession other than becoming a fisherman in the familiar waters of the sea that borders the island. When he meets Hatsue, however, he begins to experience feelings that he has never had before; he is constantly buffeted by new, powerful, and disconcerting thoughts and emotions that leave him uneasy and baffled. As their relationship progresses, he also becomes more open to leaving the island and expanding his knowledge and experience. He takes an apprenticeship on one of Terukichi's ships and, as this quote reveals, revels in the beautiful freedom he experiences when it pulls away from the island. The horizon is no longer far off and unreachable, the other islands of Japan engimas, the workings of a ship foreign. When back on the island, he can look out at ships sailing past his line of vision and comprehend the "unknown" that they are sailing into. While he will probably stay close to Uta-jima throughout his life, he is no longer sheltered and isolated.
"The only thing that really counts in a man is his get-up-and-go. If he's got get-up-and-go he's a real man, and those are the kind of men we need here on Uta-jima. Family and money are all secondary."
The Sound of Waves has a beautiful and heartwarming ending; Shinji and Hatsue's union is finally blessed by Terukichi Miyata, who explains in this quote that Shinji's poverty is no longer of concern to him. The courage and strength the young man evinced on the ship and the glowing accolades he received from the captain secure Shinji a place of esteem in Terukichi's mind. His "get-up-and-go," or his pluck, independence, and fortitude, are more important than his background. Since Terukichi is considered the personification of the island, it is not a surprise that he explains that the island needs more men like Shinji. He is clear-headed enough to discern that certain qualities are more important than wealth. This is a somewhat surprising ending in its sheer happiness, but is in keeping with the idealistic and idyllic tone of the novel. There are few examples of true violence, despair, and depravity, and Mishima's prose renders those events (like Yasuo's attempted rape of Hatsue or Shinji's father's death) less dramatic and disturbing than they actually are. His novel is truly sweet and pastoral, keeping with the spirit of the Greek tale of Daphnis and Chloe that it is said to be based upon.
...here they were in the end, free within the moral code to which they had been born, never once having been estranged from the providence of the gods...that, in short, it was this little island, enfolded in darkness, that had protected their happiness and brought their love to this fulfillment...
This beguiling quote appears at the very end of the novel. Shinji is ruminating on his happiness and the felicitous fate of himself and Hatsue while they gaze out across the sea in the lighthouse. It expresses the fact that the island has protected, nurtured, esteemed, and even furthered the lovers' relationship. Nature is, to be colloquial, on their side. The gods and the island—which seem to be one and the same—have helped orchestrate this happy ending. Their goodness, which includes the desire to abstain from premarital sex, Hatsue's generous and thoughtful nature, and Shinji's courageous and heroic behavior on the ship, has secured them the everlasting esteem of the island. Mishima makes it very clear that the lazy, libidinous, and weak-willed (as exemplified by Yasuo) do not triumph.
The Sound of Waves Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Sound of Waves is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The boy Shinji, just 18 but manly and a hard worker on the fishing boats, is smitten with love for the young girl Hatsue, daughter of the island's wealthiest, most formidable man, Terukichi Miyata, a ship owner. Hatsue returns Shinji's...