Mishima’s Classic: The Sound of Waves

March 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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