Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite the dramatic intensity of the opening pages of the story, it is Mishima’s manipulation of the third-person narrative point of view that gives this story its chief effects. The narrator exhibits unlimited omniscience and both enters into the minds of nearly every character in the story and comments on their thoughts and actions from a position to be identified as the author’s viewpoint. The story succeeds or fails to the degree that a reader accepts or rejects the narrator’s commentary.

Mishima’s use of the narrator is most effective in the handling of the secondary characters in the story. He manages to convey the feelings of the children Kiyoo, Keiko, and Katsuo by combining brief dramatized incidents and deft commentary. He shows the insecurity that causes Yasue to accept the domination of the younger Tomoko, and he makes convincing the vanity that causes her to leave the children alone near the water. Mishima’s narrator is less convincing in the characterization of Masaru. Tomoko’s husband comes across as a stereotype of the modern Japanese husband. He is more wedded to job than wife, and the affection he seeks from her is as much maternal as conjugal. Masaru is more talked about by the narrator than shown in action. His grief for his dead children may be sentimental, as the narrator claims, but little in his behavior confirms the statement.

Mishima’s treatment of Tomoko, like that of Masaru, combines dramatized action, summary of thought, and narrational commentary. Because she is the focal character of the story, there is both more dramatization and more summary of her thoughts than is true of any other character. The narrator succeeds in conveying the complexity of the feelings of a woman who has lost children in an accident and who feels at least partly to blame for their deaths. Nevertheless, Tomoko remains more a type than an individual. She is used by Mishima to make a metaphysical point; her development is a schematic of the ideas about death he seeks to illustrate in the story. As a result, Tomoko seems more a function of the narrator’s perception of her than a character genuinely independent of the narrational voice.