Themes and Meanings (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Confessions of a Mask is the study of a psychologically and sexually anomalous person and his unsuccessful attempts to accommodate himself to the heterosexual norms of his highly structured society. Beyond being a psychodrama about conflicting aspects of the same self, the novel may be read as a variation on the theme of an individual in conflict with his society. The reader who finds the narrator-protagonist’s anomalies unsympathetic or incomprehensible will read the book as a narrative in the ironic mode. Yet if one finds the narrator-protagonist’s plight and his attempts to correct it to be sympathetic, then one will be struck by the tragic qualities of his situation, one not of the protagonist’s choosing but rather determined by genetics or fate. It is probably in order to achieve this latter effect that Mishima keynotes his novel with an epigram drawn from Fyodor Dostoevski’s Bratya Karamazovy (1879-1880; The Brothers Karamazov, 1912), where the sensuous and romantic Dmitri tells his saintly, ascetic brother Alyosha: “Beauty is a terrible thing!... A man of noble heart and lofty mind sets out with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom....”

Although the novel’s narrative unfolds chronologically, Mishima’s method is to focus intensely on certain master images or spots of time rather than to provide a smoothly connected sequence of events. Isolated people, incidents, and images tend to take on powerful symbolic suggestions—for example, the staining images of spilled drinks in the closing pages of the novel link with the water of the narrator’s postpartum bath in the opening scene of the novel and with the description of his first onanistic ejaculation, which bespatters his desk and books.