(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Confessions of a Mask has been compared to James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915, serial; 1916, book) and D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913). Like those novels, Mishima’s work is a bildungsroman, the story of a young man’s growth to maturity. Yet while Joyce and Lawrence emphasize the struggle of a boy to achieve a conventional, heterosexual manhood, Mishima emphasizes the seemingly aberrant desires of his young protagonist, whose struggle is to face his feelings honestly and openly.

The confession begins with the narrator’s earliest memories, almost all of them connected with either sex or death. Almost dying at the age of four of autointoxication (Mishima himself suffered from this chronic illness), he remembers at the same time the image of a young man carrying buckets of excrement and becomes strangely aroused by his handsome face and close-fitting trousers. The image associates sex and filth, just as the boy’s later arousal by marching soldiers combines beauty and death. These dualities occur throughout the novel, as do masks and false appearances. Captivated by a picture-book illustration of a knight holding a sword aloft on a white horse, the boy is later shocked to find out that it is the picture of a woman, Joan of Arc, not of a man. Like the boy, the knight’s sex is masked and is not what it appears to be. A later book illustration, that of Saint Sebastian, whose body was pierced by arrows, arouses him even...

(The entire section is 614 words.)