Degrees of Strength: Defining Oneself in The Sound of Waves

June 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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