The Sound of Waves
Gender Roles in The Sound of Waves
In Yukio Mishima’s classic twentieth century novel, The Sound of Waves, one might initially hold some misconceptions towards the message of the story. It’s simple enough easily spot certain seemingly-sexist elements and immediately make the judgement that Mishima was a misogynist and plotted to display this in his writing. With the constant objectification of women, females’ inferior domestic roles, and the patriarchal dominance in the novel, it is not difficult to make this judgement. After examining certain literary elements of the text, however, it is clear to see that the idea of sexism is not what the novel aims to highlight. Through the use of imagery, syntax, and characterization, Mishima communicates a sincere tone that lets the reader know the novel is not a stab at the female gender; he simply attempts to convey the idea that growing up is a turbulent process for all, as seen through his characters Shinji and Hatsue.
The first literary element, and possibly the most simple for the reader to see, is the use of visual imagery. In The Sound of Waves, mentions of nature are common and symbolic. The story starts out with a picture of serenity. Mishima writes of the “surpassingly beautiful views” from the cliffs of Uta-Jima and the “calm seas” (Mishima 4). To begin with, the descriptions not only set a picturesque scene, but also symbolize Shinji’s and Hatsue’s purity and innocence before their departure towards adulthood. Additionally, the narration from the viewpoint of the cliffs suggests that perhaps the story is in for a downfall — much like the downs and ups of growing old. The emotional roller coaster of maturity is again supported by descriptive pictures of the natural setting surrounding the teenagers. When Hatsue and Shinij secretly meet, the storm outside is representative of the swelling excitement and nerves that the two are feeling. As “the ground swell[s]” and “the beach [is] aroar with incoming waves,” the reader can imagine that Hatsue’s and Shinji’s emotions are swelling and roaring just like the storm (64). This use of imagery reinforces Mishima’s sincere tone, as he is so honest towards what the story is, he connects it to the natural forces that surround the lovers.
Mishima’s blunt tone is again supported by an effective use of syntax. At the start of the novel, Mishima describes the first encounter between Hatsue and Shinji. He uses this as an opportunity to inform the reader of the physical appearances of the two protagonists. Through the use of parallel structure, it is clear to see that Mishima is giving both characters a fair and equal assessment; he is not pointing out the female’s flaws any more than he is pointing out Shinji’s. First, Shinji’s is described in detail. Mishima writes: “He was tall and well-built beyond his years” (6). Soon after this, when describing Hatsue, Mishima points out a trait that higlights her strength – or lack thereof – and might give the reader the impression that the story favors males. He writes “her forehead was moist with sweat” (7), which could have the reader thinking that the text aims to point out the weakness of women. Mishima, however, parallels this description when he points out a flaw of Shinji’s and an advantage of Hatsue’s. He writes of “the healthy color of her skin”, right after describing how Shinji’s skin “can be burned no darker by the sun than his was burned” (6-7). The structure of these descriptions make it simple for one to see that the novel is not geared towards any one gender. Mishima is honest in terms of point out how the two lovers level up to each other, and the descriptions set the stage for the maturing of the characters that is set to occur later on in the novel. Once again, the syntax supports the honest tone that Mishima maintains throughout the work, and let the reader know that the story is about growing up – not disliking women.
The third and final literary element that is used to support the coming-of-age theme is characterization. At the start of the novel, Shinji had no real ambitions. He had “become a fisherman as soon as he had finished school”, and his only life goal was to own a fishing boat with his brother (9). But when he meets Hatsue, this all changes. He still loves fishing, of course, but he starts rebelling against his routine. Whereas at the start of the novel, Shinji is simply a helper on the boat, he finishes the story by saving the boat from a monsoon when he sacrificially ventures into a storm. But this journey to strength and maturity is not to suggest that Shinji has become more powerful than Hatsue. The girl also experiences a similar journey. She goes from doing exactly what her father and society tell her to do, to surprising her community when she wins the pearl-diving contest and hands over her prize to the runner-up. The character development continues to contribute to the idea that Mishima does not aim to tell the story with a discriminatory tone; he simply wants to tell the story of two teenagers exiting youth and entering adulthood.
All in all, through the use of imagery to highlight teenage emotion, the utilization of syntax to equally assess the genders, and the employment of effective characterization to show the protagonists’ journeys towards maturity, Mishima’s sincere tone makes it clear to see that he did not intend to suppress female characters in any way. While it is true that the discussion of breasts is common and the male dominance is slightly stronger than that of the females, Mishima did not mean to offend anyone. He simply wanted to tell a story.
The Sound of Waves and Post World War 2 Japan
In The Sound of Waves, Yukio Mishima conveys the loss of traditional values in Japan due to Westernization in after the Second World War. Through powerful symbols and juxtaposition, Mishima effectively expresses his anger towards the devastating effects of the war, such as a corrupted society, on Japan. With this novel Mishima sends a message that “the old way is the right way.” In times of oppression and hardship, Mishima was still able to portray these difficulties, like the loss of culture, which gives the work great significance.
The Second World War transformed Japan economically and socially; furthermore, it significantly influenced the way the writers began to write (Japanese history: Postwar (1945)). After the war Japanese writers began to write with darker connotations. Many writers included themes of disaffection and defeat in their works; writers had to face “moral and intellectual issues in their attempts to raise social and political consciousness” (Japanese Post-war literature). Nonetheless, Mishima’s writing did not resemble these author’s styles. “Yukio Mishima” is an alias for Kimitake Hiraoka, Mishima changed his name in order to hide from his father (Belsky), he oppressed Mishima’s ideas, even before the war did. All this rejection contributed greatly to Mishima’s style; he ingeniously used symbols to hide the true meaning of his stories just like he used an alias to hide his true identity. Even though, he transmitted the same dark message as other writers of his era, he hid it with symbols. Mishima use of symbols like the ocean and the weather represents the loss of culture that Westernization brought upon Japan. Mishima’s style is almost as a Japanese dance, very delicate but powerful. The Sound of Waves is an example of this “dance” where the story appears to be very delicate and simple, but it has an important meaning that reflects Japan was being corrupted by western influences that the war brought.
One quality of Mishima’s writing is his extensive use of symbols throughout his novel. What’s more, The Sound of Waves could be referred as a conceit that represents a Westernized Japan. The ocean is one of the most important elements of the novel. Since Uta-jima is surrounded by it, it washes away the impurities from the city. The people, who never left the island, are pure, simple and honest. “There were only four street lamps on the island […] intimidate and hold back the night” (Mishima 90). The village, in contrast with the city, is not modernized; this adds to the theme of Westernization, the island, which is perceived as more peaceful and honest than the city, represents traditional Japan, and the city, which is rapidly adopting the greedy customs of the West, represents the new Japan. People that leave the island, like Hiroshi, Yasuo and Chiyoko, are seen as evil. Through this Mishima shows how the westernized Japan corrupts people. When Hiroshi comes back from his trip to the city, he is more disrespectful towards his mother. “But not a word did Hiroshi have for all the historic spots they had” (Mishima 96), his oblivion towards the historic spots shows disregard for the old, which goes against the holistic theme of the novel that “the old way is the right way”. The weather is as important as the ocean; whenever the weather changes it’s not about the meteorological phenomenon, but there is also a change in a character’s reality. The storms play a very important role in challenging Shinji to become corrupt. They encourage him and Hatsue to break the moral codes; they do not, however, proving that some people have not been corrupted yet. They also impede Shinji from showing that he is a “go-getter”. “The wind came attacking out of the black reaches of the night, striking him full in the body, […] bit out of sorts” (Mishima 162). Nevertheless, Shinji shows that he is capable of saving the day. Also, this task is very significant to the novel, because it is when Shinji is struggling to survive that he goes from a young fishing boy, to a man. The weather and the ocean contrast each other. While the ocean impedes Westernization, the weather encourages it.
Mishima puts emphasis onto the body of thought that “the old way is the right way” by using contests. When Hatsue wins the diving contest and then gives the handbag to Shinji’s mother, she is apologizing for her Aunt’s behavior. This supports how there needs to be respect to the older ways. The rivalry between Yasuo and Shinji represents the conflict in Japan between which is better the old or the young. Shinji’s success in showing that he is a “go-getter” supports Mishima’s message that favors old customs over new ones.
Through his main characters, Mishima represents important features of Post and Pre World War 2 Japan; this is significant because the contrast between these characters shows how traditional Japan is more honest than westernized Japan. Shinji is not very intelligent, however he is very hardworking, righteous and honest; his personality represents old Japan. Since the lighthouse keeper helped him pass high school, in return he takes him fish for dinner. This shows respect and righteousness, Old Japan qualities, from Shinji’s part. Mishima mourned traditional Japan he demonstrates his frustration towards this change in his book; he asserts his message through the main character Shinji. Even though his impulses urge him to make love to Hatsue he respects her choice of not breaking the moral codes when they are at the lighthouse. This respect for women and moral codes shows Old Japan qualities. Yasuo, contrary to Shinji, is greedy, violent, rude, manipulative and stubborn. These qualities are due to his various trips to the city. These trips corrupted him and his qualities represent Westernized Japan. Mishima emphasizes his message through the extensive use of juxtapositions between characters and places. Yasuo’s lazy, greedy personality contrasts Shinji’s hardworking, honest one. Through their competition to get Hatsue, Mishima demonstrates the advantages of the uncorrupted traditional Japan. Chiyoko and Hatsue’s comparison resembles that of Yasuo and Shinji, however, theirs is a more physical one. While Hatsue is pretty and Shinji is in love with her, Chiyoko is ugly and Shinji only sees her as a friend. Furthermore, Chiyoko’s jealousy led her to deviously plot against Hatsue and Shinji, something that Hatsue would never do; also, she does not respect her parents, showing characteristics of the westernized Japan that she experienced at the university outside of Uta-jima. As seen with Hiroshi, Chiyoko and Yasuo, the city degrades honest people while the island keeps honest. One reason that might explain this is that the island is surrounded by water while the city is not, supporting how the ocean washes away the impurities from the West.
The Sound of Waves is a beautiful novel that at first seems to be a very simplistic love story. However, closer inspection of the author’s personal life reveals that Mishima’s intentions were not to please others with a cliché but to represent the causes of the Second World War. His astute ways hiding features of traditional and new Japan, give significance to his story since he differs from other authors of his era. Through symbols representing the hardships of Post-World War 2 Japan, Mishima was able to brighten people’s day while transmitting an important message as well.
Belsky, Beryl. “Japan.” Yukio Mishima: A Conflicted Martyr. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.
“Japanese History: Postwar.” Japanese History: Postwar. Web. n.p, n.d. 03 March 2015.
“Japanese Post-war Literature.” Go Japan Go. n.p, n.d. Web. 03 March 2015.
Mishima, Yukio, and Meredith Weatherby. The Sound Of Waves. New York: Vintage, 1956. Print.
Degrees of Strength: Defining Oneself in The Sound of Waves
The Sound of Waves develops one of its central themes through Mishima’s examination of the motif of strength of character. The novel portrays strength as a fundamental characteristic that dictates human behavior and the journey to self knowledge. In fact, Mishima actually equates outward strength to an inner power or an ever changing attribute in this story about young adolescents who struggle with their dynamic situations. Throughout the novel, he repeatedly shows how the characters’ behaviors and respective journeys to self knowledge are determined by varying degrees of strength. In the end, The Sound of Waves is a modern Japanese novel that examines how the cultivation of a unique strength can ultimately dictate human behavior.
In the novel, Shinji demonstrates various forms of endurance during his journey to self knowledge; his displays of strength ultimately serve to define Shinji as a person. Shinji’s physical strength becomes evident through the multitude of descriptions that Mishima includes: “He was tall and well built beyond his years, and only his face revealed his youthfulness” (Mishima, 6). After losing his father in an accident, Shinji takes on responsibility as the head of the household. Shinji’s physical strength allows him to support his family by working as a deckhand on a fishing boat. Through this employment, Shinji not only shoulders the load of providing for his family, but also characterizes himself as a person. One can easily describe Shinji through his actions as a humble, self-sacrificing, and hardworking individual. Later in the novel, Shinji again demonstrates his character, and defines himself, when one of the cables on Terukichi’s ship snaps, and Shinji volunteers to tie the lifeline to the buoy. Despite the danger he faces, Shinji has no qualms when he jumps in the water below, and struggles to finally tie the lifeline to buoy. Through this physical strength, Shinji’s traits and morals become increasingly evident in his journey to self knowledge.
Other aspects, aside from Shinji’s physical strength, affect his personal and psychological journey. Shinji’s mental strength is also a key component. Though Shinji’s physical strength allows him to provide for his family, his mental strength is what truly enables him to act as the head of his household. Despite being the main earner in his family, Shinji has no objection to providing for his younger brother the opportunities he never had. At one point, Shinji’s mother berates him for being less intelligent than his younger brother Hiroshi: “After a minute, as though the thought had just occurred to her, she started heaping Shinji with abuse, going on about how terrible his reading and writing were and how much smarter Hiroshi was than he.” Yet Shinji harbors no bitterness towards his family. The mental strength Shinji possesses continues to further enunciate his positive traits and morals. Shinji’s mental strength arises once again when he continues to maintain a relationship with Hatsue, despite her father’s forbidding the relationship: this relationship became the gossip of the island, yet in spite of his situation, Shinji remained unfazed in his dedication to Hatsue.
While Shinji experiences a journey to self knowledge in which he defines himself as an individual, Hatsue does so in her own form. Hatsue’s mental strength specifically impacts her own personal journey. After Chiyoko revealed Hatsue and Shinji’s relationship to Yasuo, Terukichi forbade their relationship upon hearing the news. However, Hatsue remained steadfast in her dedication to Shinji, secretly writing letters to him despite her father’s objection. Her sense of perspective shows itself again after Yasuo attempts to sexually assault Hatsue. Hatsue manages to escape Yasuo’s advances, and later informs her father of what happened; however, Terukichi chooses not to intervene, “…but her father had not done a thing about Yasuo, had, in fact, even remained on as friendly terms as ever with Yasuo’s family, with the same visiting back and forth”. (Mishima, 133) Hatsue remains alone, not able to see Shinji, and shunned by her father despite the assault on her. However, Hatsue does not let the situation discourage her, and demonstrates her character through the mental strength needed to persevere in such a situation.
Although the characters’ behaviors in the novel appear predetermined, in reality the characters’ strengths play fundamental roles in their personal journeys. Shinji’s physical and mental strength, as well as Hatsue’s mental strength, demonstrate that these characters both have firm principles and are capable of evolving.
Shintoism and Daoism in The Sound of Waves
Shintoism is an ancient Japanese religion that initially focused on praying for good harvest with the start of Japan coinciding with the start of rice growing. Shinto followers believe in spirits that live in living things such as animals and plants, as well as natural places like mountains that follow the “way of the gods.” Because Japan’s early society was built on farming, Shintoism values an ordered and knowable patterns to produce great harvest, and it also reflects in Japanese family structure. Cleanliness is also an important value as it relates to helping things grow, so uncleanliness is associated with the lack of ability to thrive. Its values in nature, family, and purity have integrated into Japanese culture and is prevalent in Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sound of Waves.
Shinto followers believe in spirits, called kami, that exist in all aspects of nature. This emphasis on nature and is shown through the characters’ dependence on it throughout the novel. Shinji goes to the ocean to find peace in his daily toils. “The vast ocean stretched away from the prow […] and gradually the sight of it filled his body with energy […] and without realizing it he felt at peace again” (Mishima 13). The ocean symbolizes the ebb and flow of life, and the sound and repetitiveness calms Shinji. Shinji’s mother also looks to nature whenever she has something to think about. The butterfly that Shinji’s mother encounters in chapter 12 aided her in gathering enough courage to confront Terukichi about Shinji and Hatsue’s budding relationship. “The butterfly’s futile labor cast a shadow over her heart. […] At this moment for some reason a reckless courage was born within her heart” (Mishima 125). The characters in this book all reflect how much Shintoism’s emphasis on nature is integrated into Japanese culture.
Family structure and stability is also a Shinto value that is reflected in the family dynamics in The Sound of Waves. With Shinto’s father’s death, it threw off the balance of Shinto’s traditional family. His mom was forced to be the sole provider for the family, working hard as a diver. “Her toes had been toughened by the repeated cuts and bruises they had received from the diving women’s customary way of always kicking off against the floor of the sea when ready to resurface” (Mishima 126). Mishima is trying to emphasize to the reader to respect hard work she puts in for her family. The author also shows the compassion she has for her son by gathering the courage to talk to Terukichi. “The mother was firm in her courage. She would met Terukichi, champion her son’s innocence, lay bare her heart, and get the two married” (Mishima 128). The value of family is extremely prevalent in Japanese culture, and Mishima emphasizes it throughout the novel.
Purity is fundamental to Shintoism values. Shinto followers believe in outer beauty, or bodily beauty, and inner beauty, or purity of heart. Mishima portrays Yasuo, the unsuitable suitor for Hatsue, as impure in his attempt to rape her. “What a grand feeling it was to be able to do this to a girl and yet be sure that she could never tell anyone about it!” (Mishima 92). His impurity foreshadows that he does not deserve Hatsue and that the forces of nature will not allow him to be with her in the end. On the other hand, Hatsue and Shinji refrained from being impure when they first started their relationship. “It’s bad! It’s bad for a girl to do that before she’s married” (Mishima 77). This kept their relationship pure throughout the novel, shedding good light on their relationship so that nature would bring them together in the end.
Mishima reflects much of the integration of Shinto values into society through his characters and plots to accurately portray Japanese culture. Daoism,a religion that focuses on living in harmony with the Tao, or “the way,” is also heavily portrayed in The Sound of Waves. The first Daoist philosopher, Laozi, advocated that people should find peace and happiness within themselves, not in wealth. According to him, the only laws are the laws of nature, and the only way to truly know how to behave is to observe it. Through observation, followers contemplate how to lead a balanced life, a life with good and bad, beauty and ugliness, pleasure and pain. Throughout The Sound of Waves, Mishima emphasizes the beauty of nature through imagery and the reliance of the characters on nature.
Nature is carefully observed in Japanese culture. The title for the book, The Sound of Waves, is already alluding to the peacefulness that Daoists find in observing nature, setting the tone for the rest of the story. Mishima opens the story with beautiful descriptions of Japan’s Uta-Jima, or Song Island, making it come alive for the reader. “Once there were two “torii” pines growing here, their branches twisted and trained into the shape of a torii, providing a curious frame for the view” (Mishima 4). Mishima also uses different nature forces to convey the mood of the story. When Yasuo was trying to force Matsue to sleep with him, hornets stung him to prevent him from doing the evil act. “The hornet turned its stinger toward the skin at Yasuo’s wrist and drove it in with all its might (Mishima 90). The author also used weather to convey how characters were feeling. “For Shinji, the rainy season brought only one bitter day after another” (Mishima 147). The rain reflects the toil of Shinji’s everyday life as he works to provide for his family.
The characters throughout the book look to nature for counsel in times of need or stress. At the beginning of the book, the author describes “two spots with surpassingly beautiful views,” the Yashiro Shrine and the torii (Mishima 3). He paints these views with words to the reader so that it can be referenced when the characters seek comfort at those very locations. “Shinji gazed out over the Gulf of Ise […] The boy felt a consummate accord between himself and this opulence of nature surrounding him” (Mishima 45). Shinji looks to nature for reassurance, and he often goes to the shine to pray and looks upon the views and feels the nature “permeate the core of his being” (Mishima 45). The author emphasizes Shinji’s reliance on nature to feel peace by writing, “Nature itself satisfied his need that Shinji felt no particular lack of music in his everyday life” (Mishima 45). His mom also observes nature in a similar way. She went to watch the rolling waves as she worried about her son’s unhappiness about his situation with Matsue. “She went directly to the breakwater and stood there watching the waves as they dashed themselves to pieces” (Mishima 123). While she was contemplating what to do for her son, she “caught sight of a lone butterfly that came flying capriciously from the outspread nets toward the breakwater” (Mishima 124). Observing the butterfly’s foolish actions gave her the courage to stand up to Terukichi, Matsue’s father, and demand him to allow Matsue and Shinji to see each other.
Mishima’s Classic: The Sound of Waves
In the novel The Sound of Waves, author Yukio Mishima tells the story of Shinji, and his love for a girl by the name of Hatsue. The novel expounds upon a myriad of themes relevant to the lives of many across the world, adolescents especially. These names range from the excitement of a first love to the importance of knowledge. Perhaps the most important , however, is the coming of age. This theme centers around Shinji, who begins the novel as a teenaged boy living with his mother and ends it as a man on his way to face the world with his soon-to-be bride by his side. Mishima expertly utilizes several literary techniques to bring these themes to life, including a well-developed character in Shinji, fleshed-out locations, and detailed imagery and symbolism.
To begin with, The Sound of Waves features a character by the name of Shinji, an eighteen year old boy who has recently finished high school. Shinji works on an octopus-fishing boat, known as the Taihei-maru. What is perhaps most significant about Shinji is his attitude towards life itself. This is best characterized in a quote by the Terukichi Miyata, the uncle of Shinji’s lover, Hatsue. “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.” (Mishima 175). The “get-up-and-go” Hatsue’s uncle refers to is Shinji’s drive and determination. This is demonstrated throughout the novel, most notably when Shinji dives headfirst into the ocean to anchor the fishing boat during a raging storm despite the tremendous danger he was in. Hatsue’s uncle viewed this event as an example of Shinji’s perseverance and his commitment to completing the task at hand well. In this regard, Shinji serves as a role model for people of all cultures.
The Sound of Waves takes place entirely on the fictional island of Uta-Jima. The name is Japanese for Song Island and it certainly lives up to its name. The island, though created for the purpose of the novel, is based upon actual Japanese islands. Though small, housing roughly “…fourteen hundred inhabitants” with a coastline of “…something under three miles.”, the island is described as one of “surpassingly beautiful views” (Mishima 3). Uta-Jima plays a central role in the development of the characters, particularly Shinji. It serves as his birthplace and the only land he has ever known. The entirety of Shinji’s life has taken place at or around the island. Consequently, when he finally leaves the island at the conclusion of the story, it is a moment of great significance.
The novel also contains a myriad of vivid imagery. One such example of this is the description of the environment at the onset of chapter 3. The image reads as follows:
“A wind was blowing from the sea, rattling the closed night-shutters and making the lamp saw back and forth, now dim, now suddenly bright. From outside, the night sea came pressing very near them, and the roar of the tide was constantly revealing the unrest and might of nature as the shadows of the lamp moved over the cheerful faces of the young men.” (Mishima 20-21).
The image helps to develop the world the characters inhabit. This is important to a reader, as having a clear understanding of where and when the characters exist is vital to understanding their stories in the way in which the author intended them to tell them. As described in reference to the island of Uta-Jima, Shinji’s entire life has been predicated around the location he has been raised in. He is apart of the Young Men’s Association, as it is located near where he lives. He first professes his love to Hatsue at a lighthouse on the island. He is a fisherman, as Uta-Jima is surrounded by sea, making fishing a large part of the local economy. If this central location were not effectively and vividly developed, Shinji’s journey away from the island at the end of the story would not have nearly the impact that it does. In short, a reader must understand the location in depth and detail if he or she is to experience it in the manner in which the protagonist does.
Finally, The Sound of Waves capitalizes heavily on the use of symbolism, or the substitution of a theme or idea with an object or person. In this case, symbolism manifests itself in the form of nature. Mishima’s use of nature throughout the novel echoes the emotions of the characters themselves. This is prevalent right from the commencement of the story, as when Shinji and Hatsue first meet to confess their love, the weather is calm and cool. The contrary is true, as well, as when Shinji dives into the ocean during a particularly tense and emotional moment in the story, the weather changes to reflect that. Instead of sunshine and clouds, the characters are met with a violent thunderstorm, echoing their own inner-tension. Nature’s symbolic role in the novel is even commented upon by the characters directly. On page 80, Chiyoko, the daughter and wife of the lighthouse keeper, notes that Uta-Jima’s inhabitants “enthusiastically entered into an alliance with nature and gave it their full support” (Mishima 80). Ultimately, nature serves a symbol representing the emotions and events the characters are experiencing.
One notable quote from the novel can be found on page 150, when the protagonist, Shinji, has an epiphany. “‘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.” (Mishima 150). The revelation comes to him after he is given responsibility of one of Terukichi Miyata’s fishing vessels. As the ship pulls out to the open ocean, Shinji is faced with a sight of uninterrupted water. Shinji feels as though he can travel anywhere and accomplish anything. This accentuates one of the central themes of the novel: the coming of age. Shinji is no longer restricted by anything, as he knows the world is his.
Uncommon Means to Happiness: Overcoming Social Barriers in ‘The Sound of Waves’
In “The Sound of Waves”, the possibility that individuals must break social norms and stay true to themselves in order to reach true happiness is explored across two distinct classes. Shinji and Hatsue, who belong to different classes, fall in love in a conservative town where marriage is reserved for two people of the same class. Despite many efforts to keep them apart, the young pair sticks to their instincts, with a helping hand from nature. If they had fallen prey to said efforts, their love would have been broken and they likely would not have been able to reach their optimal level of happiness.
The “Song Island” (Mishima 1) society in itself represents a dichotomy because of the vastly distinct social classes. All citizens of the island town participate in the collectivist society, with most of the women being abalone divers and most of the men being fishermen, and in fact, the people of this island are said to “always have the will to work truly and well and put up with whatever” (Mishima, 53). The use of this alliteration truly places an emphasis on the work ethic of the island as a whole. Nonetheless, the social classes draw a stark and polarizing divide between them. Hatsue and Shinji themselves epitomize this class structure. Shinji grows up in a poor household and with the dream of owning his own fishing boat, so that he can provide for himself and his family. Hatsue, on the other hand, is the daughter of a successful fisherman who is expected to follow her father’s wishes by using her marriage in order to form an alliance with another powerful family. Hatsue has not dealt with any hardships throughout her lifetime, at least not to the extent to which those of the lower class on the island have. By continuing their relationship, Hatsue and Shinji completely disregard the typical constraints of social class.
As soon as Hatsue arrives to the small island community, she catches Shinji’s eye. Eventually, he catches hers as well and an unexpected friendship commences- which is the first of their rebellions against societal norms. After many flirty hang outs, “their dry, chapped lips touched” (Mishima 50), again breaking social norms; this time the one of saving oneself completely until marriage. Evidently so, this forbidden kiss eventually leds to a deeper relationship that extends past the physical dimensions- Hatsue and Shinji’s romantic and spiritual connection deepens.
The couple weathers village rumors centered around their virginity, or rather lack thereof. Hatsue’s father, who hopes that his daughter will conform to his wishes and marry Yasuo Kawamoto, the leader of the Young Men’s Association, who comes from a wealthy family, eventually finds out. As soon as Hatsue’s father catches wind of the rumors, he forbids Shinji from coming around the house, forces Hatsue to stay in the house while the boats are docked (which is when Shinji is in town and back from fishing), making every effort to prevent her from seeing him. This therefore becomes Hatsue and Shinji’s new “norms”. And surely, Hatsue and Shinji once again break these norms and expectations. Hatsue decides to write daily letters to Shinji, and Shinji has one of his friends pick it up every day- therefore maintaining a line of communication between them despite efforts to cut them.
In the above mentioned process of communication, Hatsue tells Shinji about an awful experience that she was subject to. In an effort to have Hatsue forget about Shinji, and fall in love with him instead, Yasua Kawamoto attempted to rape her, “taking advantage of her trustfulness” (Mishima 98). If Hatsue was a conforming girl, she likely would have accepted this as her fate, which likely would have led to her marrying Yasuo, like her father had hoped for, and the whole town was expecting. Instead, she stuck to her gut feeling. She didn’t let the attempted rape phase her or influence her choice of partner.
There seems to be an overarching motif of nature being on the side of those justly seeking fated happiness- Hatsue and Shinji. In the recently mentioned rape attempt, Yasuo was undoubtedly halted because “the hornet had stung him” (99), and inflicted pain beyond what he could handle. Hatsue was therefore liberated from his cruel actions. Nature also gave Shinji a chance to prove himself while out at sea, which allowed him to outshine Yasuo and win approval from Hatsue’s father. It wasn’t all nature’s work, however. Shinji staying true to his values of leadership and initiative played an important role in this situation as well. In fact, Shinji even felt “ashamed of himself for the way he had been squatting on the deck until now, practically cowering” (Mishima 169). This indirect characterization proves that staying true to himself eventually helped Shinji to be with Hatsue, which ultimately lead to his happiness.
It is of utmost importance to realize that if Hatsue or Shinji hadn’t stuck to their ground, and, in the process, broken social standards outlined for them, they would not have been able to reach their happiness. However, it is also important to note that said happiness is questionable. While it was definitely the brave actions Shinji took during the treacherous fishing trip that granted him approval from Uncle Teru, Hatsue’s father, him and Hatsue have opposing opinions on what kept him safe during his time at sea. Hatsue firmly believes that “her picture had protected Shinji. But… he knew it had been his own strength that had tided him through that perilous night.” (Mishima 191).
Indeed, by prioritizing their own sensations and visions, and subsequently breaking societal norms, Shiji and Hatsue effectively “protected their happiness and brought their love to this fulfillment” (Mishima 190). Their story suggests that to reach happiness, one must rebel against social norms. Hatsue and Shinji referred back to their true selves and self of identity constantly, not caving in to what was or was not expected of them. Undoubtedly, nature nudged them in the right direction. Taking into consideration a situation in which Hatsue and Shinji actually follow the unspoken rule of not crossing the class structure when marrying, it is clear that neither would be as happy as they are now. Through all of the struggles and village rumors, they managed to maintain their love for each other and their devotion to their true selves. Because of their foray into breaking social norms, Hatsue and Shinji were able to reach happiness, therefore implicating that one should break social norms (if necessary) to reach happiness.