The role of gender and social status is to reinforce the underlying message in Mishima's text: his unyielding confidence in and loyalty to ancient Japanese values and martial ethics.
Interestingly, Mishima, like his protagonist, Lieutenant Shinji Takeyama, also committed ritual seppuku or suicide. Both author and protagonist are so intertwined in their pledged loyalties to Imperial Japan that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in this area.
In the story, Mishima portrays masculinity as the embodiment of every sacred virtue in Imperial Japan. Mishima's own preoccupation with the masculine ethos is well-documented. During his last years, he often grieved the loss of Japanese prestige on the global stage, a loss he felt was precipitated by a corresponding bleeding of traditional, Japanese masculine values from the social fabric. He felt adrift in post-war Japan, bewildered by the increasing materialism and worldliness of his fellow citizens.
In Patriotism, Mishima's portrayal of the lieutenant and his wife reinforces his dual fascination with Apollonian and Dionysian traditions. The Apollonian tenets fueled his obsession for the rational, while the Dionysian virtues inspired him to embrace his intoxicating and irrational side. Both come together in a brief, aesthetic communion of perfection before dissolving in violent tragedy in the story; the lieutenant makes love to his wife and both relentlessly attain the heights of sexual ecstasy before subjecting themselves to the horrors of ritual suicide.
The importance of gender in supporting social status cannot be underestimated in Mishima's Japan; this is apparent in his story. The wife of a soldier must know her place; if her husband is to die a courageous death, she is to follow without reservation. To Reiko, her husband is 'the sun about which her whole world revolved.' When she hears the news that her husband's fellow soldiers have been implicated in a rebellion against the Imperial forces, she prepares to die. Reiko meticulously sorts through her belongings and tries to determine which of her beloved treasures she will bequeath to friends and family after her death.
Reiko knows that her husband's social status is predicated on his resolution to die a courageous death should circumstances demand it. Her own acquiescence to follow in his deadly footsteps will further reinforce his masculine prestige and his legacy. When Lieutenant Takeyama proclaims that he will need her to witness his death, Reiko is touched by her husband's profound trust in her. He knows that she will follow him through the gates of death regardless of his ability to ascertain this fact.
When the moment of truth approaches, we realize once more the intersection of the rational with the irrational.
Was this seppuku?—he was thinking. It was a sensation of utter chaos, as if the sky had fallen on his head and the world was reeling drunkenly. His will power and courage, which had seemed so robust before he made the incision, had now dwindled to something like a single hairlike thread of steel, and he was assailed by the uneasy feeling that he must advance along this thread, clinging to it with desperation.
Lieutenant Takeyama is very much aware that his masculine stoicism is the only thing that propels him forward, as his resolve begins to fracture. Reiko, too, must do her part. She must witness to the very bitter end the violent demise of her husband, and she must stifle every impulse to flinch from the trial by fire she has agreed to share with him. To be fearless in the face of death is to cement her position and legacy as a worthy soldier's wife, a legacy based on traditional Japanese ideals. The description of Reiko's suicide is couched in reverent, almost religious language.
Reiko sensed that at last she too would be able to taste the true bitterness and sweetness of that great moral principle in which her husband believed. What had until now been tasted only faintly through her husband’s example she was about to savor directly with her own tongue.
In Mishima's story, we witness the convergence of the masculine and the feminine to reinforce the social status of those who do not flinch from the duties of ritual suicide in the face of defeat and national disgrace.