The Times, They Are a-Changin': Seasons and Characterization in The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

The Times, They Are a-Changin': Seasons and Characterization in The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

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Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a powerful allegorical novel written in Japan after World War II. It is deeply steeped in Japanese culture, and much of its deeper meaning can be lost to the western audience. One such example is the use of Summer and Winter as the titles for the two parts of the novel. In Japan, kigo and kidai are words and concepts that are traditionally associated with the different seasons. These range from obvious, such as the connection between summer and heat, to obscure, such as autumn and remembrance of the dead. Mishima wrote waka, a form of classical Japanese poetry from a young age and would have been familiar with these connections (“Yukio Mishima - Biography”). Within the novel, Ryuji experiences changes in his characterization, from a honor-bound sailor looking for a good death to a man trying to feel like he belongs with his new lover, to the worst thing of all (in the mind of Noboru), a father. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea’s division into summer and winter informs Ryuji’s shift in characterization through reference to traditional Japanese seasonal concepts; furthermore, this adds additional allegorical commentary on the cultural changes within Japan.
Ryuji, at the beginning of the novel, is considered “unsociable and eccentric” by his crewmates (15). He views himself as a “heroic figure against the brink of man’s world” convinced that “there must be a special destiny in store for [him]” (17). Ryuji reduces Fusako to a sexual companion, losing his interest in her when she is no longer “embrac[ing] him” but instead pouring coffee, spending his thoughts “calculating how far he might be able to go” (22). He looks at men that “read letters [...] and l...

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...niscing about the life style that he had held just the previous summer and forsook for comfort, much as the Japanese did in approaching westernization. Mishima uses the traditional meaning of seasons and their cyclical nature in parallel with Ryuji's behavior and passion for his goals to enhance the allegorical meaning; as seasons repeat, Japan in his mind must regain the glory of its summer.

Works Cited

"Japanese Haiku Topical Dictionary" Japanese Text Initiative. University of Virginia Library
Electronic Text Center, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. .
Mishima, Yukio. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. New York: Vintage International, 1994. Print.
"Yukio Mishima - Biography." EGS Library. The European Graduate School, 2012. Web.
09 Apr. 2014. .

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