Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

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After the Banquet contains no complex philosophical or psychological themes, which readers have come to expect from many of Yukio Mishima’s best-known works. Instead, Mishima has written more of a light entertainment than a fully developed novel. His primary aim seems to be that of satirizing Japanese politics, particularly the stiff Noguchi, and the social conventions of marriage, particularly the rigid relationships between men and women in Japan.

Beyond these obvious intentions, there is a dual theme that runs throughout the novel: First, there is the conflict between Kazu, the woman of warm blood and human vitality, and Noguchi, the man of lofty ideas and beautiful principles; second, there is the theme of Kazu’s discovery that the true nature of politics is betrayal. In fact, what makes Kazu so adept at politics is her past experience with love, for she realizes that politics is like romance, indeed that politics and love affairs are identical.

The tone and style of the novel move between a kind of poetic lyricism and a subtle sarcasm. The combination is such that the reader is never quite sure when Mishima is being serious and when he is being satirical. Because the work is broadly critical of certain Japanese political and social customs, this uneasiness is even more pronounced for Western readers unfamiliar with the aesthetic conventions of Japanese fiction and the traditional social conventions of Japanese life.

Much of the novel’s thematic complexity springs from the complexity of Kazu’s motives. It would be untruthful to say that she works energetically for Noguchi’s election simply to be the governor’s wife, just as it would be inadequate to say that she does it for purely selfless motives. Both these motives are Western ideas that are alien to her. She is an ambitious woman. Her ambition, however, is not for herself but for her husband; thus she seems at once modern and old-fashioned. What she finally realizes about herself is that it is not any particular goal for which she strives, but rather the dynamic activity of life itself, in spite of the risks and dangers.

It is Yamazaki, Kazu’s new friend and confidant, who has the final word in the novel, for he has understood the meaning of Kazu’s experience with Noguchi. He tells her that although the election may have seemed a misfortune to her, it did well to expose her counterfeit happiness and reveal Noguchi’s and her true natures to each other. Kazu returns to her vitality, determined to live, and Noguchi retreats back to his principles, content to die. As Yamazaki says, all is well.