IB English Paper: The Use of Contrast in
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea
A ship’s horn wails in the distance. The long kiss is broken. The sailor’s palate is once again wet with longing for the infinite freedom of sea. It is in this world, where layers of opposite meaning crash as waves to rocks do, that Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea is set.
This tale of tragedy is one of a man caught in a tempest of moral collision in the interstice which borders freedom and entanglement. Inevitably, the yearning for domesticity and the bastardized and disempowered life of land grows like a cancer in his once pure soul, and before the flaw can be cut out like a disease, he is ravaged by it. The once distant flaw grows and grows until death is his only salvation.
In order to reinforce the danger of this chaotic web between two worlds of value Mishima uses the force of impact of richly described contrasting settings, constantly warring perceptions of each character through another’s eyes, and the combating ideals of American and Japanese culture.
This world of opposites is buttressed by the physical setting in which the characters are placed. Yokohama, a Japanese shipping town, is in every way a representation of conflicting worlds. Set on the crux between sea and land, the magnificent power of the ocean remains omnipresent. In the beginning of the novel, these two elements are in harmony, as represented by the delicately told consummation scene (12-13) in which man, woman, earth and water are united within the mysterious background of a ship’s passionately moaning horn.
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But as the plot progresses, the simply beautiful act of attachmentless sex becomes mired in the dense murk of human emotion. The once clean waters of Ryuji’s soul are muddied by the incessant calling of the life of shore. Fusako’s desires drown out the gentle whispers of the noble woman sea, and Ryuji becomes dissatisfied with the quest which once filled his heart. He becomes impatient and dissatisfied with the life of a sailor, and gravitates more and more towards the life of land. His repeated memories of distant ports and the power that a ships horn still holds over him seem to vividly symbolize the doubt which still lingers over his decision.
As Ryuji grows more stuck in the firm grip of shore life, Noburu is entangled in his own struggle to find some connection to the universe. While he once found an incredible clarity in the unison of opposites he witnessed as his mother and his hero (Ryuji) had sex, he now finds that the only way to gain the same sense of power is from the rigid control of his passions that he finds in violence. His initiation into the gang expresses this awakening into the clarity of mind that comes with power over nature. He, too, gains an understanding of the Grand Adventure, but his comes with a sense of control and a powerful blood lust.
The stark contrast between the two most vividly described scenes in the book – the consummation scene and the cat killing scene – show the difference between the passive and active powers in which Noboru finds fulfillment. Even the dominant moods and colors, the blue of the soft night, and the red of the cat’s innards, show this contrast. The killing of the cat seems to return him to the sense of order over chaos that he first glimpsed through the peephole as he gazed onto the shared bed of Ryuji and Fusako.
The quick pace of this novel heightens to its climax by the added understanding brought to the reader by a reccurring stylistic device. Although the story is always told in third person, the focal point continually shifts between characters in every chapter. Continually, insight into the three major characters is gained when we read how they perceive themselves, how they perceive others, and how others perceive them – an intriguing way to give depth and insight into the psyche of each character. For example, we learn that the relationship of Fusako and Ryuji is more one of mutual need than of “true love” or understanding (42, 72).
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Also, Noboro’s careful observation of Ryuji’s fall from grace to fatherhood reveals more than Ryuji knows himself. Although Ryuji is older, Noburu is more perceptive (an ironic contrast in itself, that of Noboru’s young age and supposed incapabilities to his actual keen perception).
Another layer of meaning through contrast is added to the book when one considers the cultural confusion of post-W.W.II Japan. While the story is a timeless one of a war of values, it can also be considered a metaphor for the occupation of Japan by US militia and the deterioration of the strong Japanese Samurai tradition.
The character of Fusako, the owner of a frequented Western imports shop, seems very much a symbol for the omnipresence of the West in Japan. Noboru, upholding rigidity of spirit, stoicism, and the strength of manhood, seems to symbolize the power of patriarchal Japan.
This metaphor turns into a political statement when Ryuji (at first living in accordance with the morals Noboru holds dear, but then falling tragically under Fusako’s lifestyle), succumbs to the violent judgment of the gang and is returned to grace by death alone. In other words, Japan will become mighty again when the western values are forcibly cut out of her.
The novel climaxes when all of these motifs culminate in a single scene. Ryuji is killed by the gang on a deserted US army base hill which overlooks the sea. In a lightning flash of realization, he understands his weakness, and that the only way to be purged of his grandiose mistake is death alone.