The Sound of Waves

The Sound of Waves Summary and Analysis of Chapter XII


Spring comes to an end. Shinji, however, has trouble coming up with ways to meet secretly with Hatsue, and mourns for the days when, even when they were far apart, they could meet up in person. In the evenings Shinji occasionally walks by Hatsue's house and looks up to see her peering out her window. She never says anything for fear of being overheard, but her letters the next day always express her unspoken feelings from the night before.

Shinji takes to walking around the isolated parts of the island when he isn’t working, musing upon his situation. Sometimes he goes to the burial mound of Prince Deki, the subject of vague legends that say that he was a prince who drifted to this island and stayed and married an island girl. No other information exists, suggesting that he simply lived a happy, uneventful life.

Shinji visits this tomb one day and ruminates on his own unhappiness. Surprisingly, though, Hatsue's letter from the next day says she had a dream where it was revealed that Shinji was a reincarnation of Prince Deki. This gives Shinji hope, since he had not told her of his own visit to the tomb and so sees this as a positive sign.

Shinji's mother is not currently working, as Shinji is providing for the family and the water is too cold for diving. She is often restless during the day and misses working diligently. This free time gives her more time to think about her conspicuously unhappy son, Shinji, and wonder how she could make him feel better. One afternoon she wanders down to the beach, for "like her son, she too went to take counsel with the sea whenever she had something to think about."

For a while she watches a butterfly strain with all its might to rise high into the air and fly as far as it can. It eventually rests its wings on a knot of rope. Shinji’s mother is not prone to superstitions, but she is struck by the butterfly's futile labor and feels a deep sadness. All of a sudden, however, she feels a surge of courage and recklessness and strides off from the beach in a most determined manner.

She heads up to Terukichi Miyata's house. Even though he is a very rich man, his house is not markedly different than others on the island. Shinji's mother knows that if anyone sees her, their tongues will wag, but there is no one in sight. She fixes her hair and straightens her clothes before she enters the house. It appears empty, and she calls, "Good day." Hatsue calls out in reply, and soon comes down to meet her.

Shinji's mother looks at the girl her son is so in love with, noting her pale face and slightly haggard look as well as her big dark eyes. The mother is filled with purpose –- she will speak with Terukichi, lay bare the situation, and explain that the two youths should wed. She asks Hatsue to ask her father to come downstairs to speak with her.

As she waits for Terukichi, Shinji's mother grows more timid and fears that she has acted in a rash fashion. Hatsue returns, but won’t come down the stairs all the way. Hesitantly, she explains that her father refuses to come down. Shinji's mother loses her courage and grows furious instead as her life of toil and hardship flashes before her eyes. She says loudly enough for Terukichi upstairs to hear, "All right, then! So you say you don't want to see a poor widow. You mean you don't want me to cross your threshold ever again. Well, let me tell you something –- and you tell that father of yours –- hear! Tell him I said it first –- that never in my life will I cross his damned threshold again!"

Shinji's mother is too embarrassed to tell her son what she has done, and can only bring herself to verbally abuse Hatsue to him. By the time she confesses, he has already heard through one of Hatsue's letters, but as both Hatsue and his mother left out the angry parting words, Shinji mostly feels despair and shame at how his mother has been humiliated. Shinji vows to never confide in anyone but Ryuji and Jukichi again, rather than upset his mother by mentioning Hatsue, and so his mother is left feeling morose that she tried to do something kind but is now lonelier than ever as a result.

When May comes, Shinji is thrilled to receive a letter from Hatsue saying that she will be able to sneak out of her house one night at eleven since her father is having guests stay the night, and would no doubt drink a great deal and retire early. Shinji happily chooses a new shirt for the meeting and waits at home until it is time to leave to meet Hatsue. His mother sees his excited attitude and is nervous.

Shinji walks alone outside, looking out at the sea and thinking about the unknown. When he watches the unknown from a distance, he knows peace, but when he boards the ship to the unknown he only knows despair and uneasiness. He thinks about how he and Hatsue have so few options. They cannot leave and elope, for he has no boat and no money. They cannot commit double suicide because he would simply not do it –- he is too optimistic and knows he needs to support his family. Time passes as he considers these weighty thoughts.

Finally, the allotted time arrives. Shinji stands atop the stairs of the shrine and looks out over the Gulf of Ise, observing twinkling lights. It is silent. He sees a human figure at the base of the stairs and hears wooden shoes start to climb hurriedly up the stairs. Shinji refrains from calling her name, but plans on running down to meet her. To his horror he hears a man call her name and sees her father Terukichi come out from the bushes and grab his daughter. Angry words are exchanged, and without even looking at Shinji above him, Terukichi drags his daughter away.


An oft-discussed component of Mishima's novels is their attempt to deal with the mind-body duality. Scholars Dick Wagenaar and Yoshio Iwamoto address this issue in a significant critical article entitled "Yukio Mishima: Dialectics of Mind and Body." They begin with noting that Mishima's particular psychology centers upon a conflict between "two antithetical modes of being, both equally seductive for Mishima. To establish one's existence either within the confines of mentality or to do so within the confines of physicality –- that was the dilemma at the center of his thinking about himself."

Mishima's own biography can attest to this fact; one need only look at his prolific output of literary works occurring simultaneously with his fierce embrace and dedication to martial arts and military training. Aspects of Mishima's life, such as his repressed homosexuality, his rejection from military service during WWII, his build-up of his frail body with bulging muscles, his formation of his own army, and even his eventual suicide indicated the tensions present within him, especially in light of the fact that he was an intensely cerebral man.

Such tensions naturally make their way into most, if not all, of his novels; according to scholars Wagenaar and Iwamoto, "...whatever the set of characters or narrative manner, the various battles remain, at bottom, curiously similar. The reason is that the deepest conflicts generated in his art are worked out with the mind-body duality as the point of contention."

Much of Japanese fiction was concerned with dualities, but Mishima was interested in polarities. He spoke of bumpu-ryodo, or the dual pursuit of letters and martial arts propounded by Heihachiro Oshio in the 19th century. Oshio wanted to obliterate the "contradictions and dichotomies by harmonizing thought and action." In Mishima's work, however, it is not the substance of unresolved drama that makes his literature great, but the beauty in attaining harmony. Mishima used words and his physical body, living a life that tried to reconcile both.

While the mind-body conflict is seen most clearly in works like Confessions of a Mask (1949) and Sun and Steel (1968), The Sound of Waves, while seemingly a simple love story free from intensity and drama, also embodies some of the conflict. The novel, Wagenaar and Iwamoto write, "maintained a harmonious balance between intellect and flesh, it radiates an aura of gentle affection and endearing innocence. Evil, in the form of two characters who represent the mind principle, remains on the periphery, failing to corrupt the pure love between its Daphnis and Chloe-modeled lovers." Shinji's physical strength can be referenced here, for this is his claim to significance. His body does not wrestle with his mind very often, although there are minor scuffles along the way as his love for Hatsue expands his understanding as well as his emotions, and results in a newfound thirst for freedom and experience. However, such freedom and experience desired do not interfere with his body's preeminence.