Death in Midsummer

by Yukio Mishima

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 787

Staying at an inn near the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula, Tomoko Ikuta escapes the summer heat by taking a nap in her room. She sends her daughter Keiko, age five, and her sons Kiyoo and Katsuo, ages six and three, to play on the beach under the supervision of her sister-in-law Yasue. Proud of the whiteness of her skin, Yasue does not want to tan, so she remains under a beach umbrella and the children play near the edge of the water. Keiko and Kiyoo are caught in an undertow and pulled under the water; Yasue hurries toward them but collapses in the water from a heart attack. People on the beach pull her out and take Katsuo and Yasue’s body back to the inn. They do not know that the other two children are missing.

Awakened with the news that Yasue has had a swimming accident, Tomoko hurries to the lawn and finds a man administering artificial respiration to her sister-in-law. She sees Katsuo in the arms of a local fisherman. Four hours pass before the doctor gives up the effort to revive Yasue, and only then does Tomoko find out from her youngest son that the other two children have drowned. It is already after sunset, but young men begin to dive to locate the children’s bodies. Tomoko waits until nearly morning before she sends her husband, Masaru, a telegram advising him that Yasue is dead and that Kiyoo and Keiko are missing.

Masaru leaves Tokyo immediately for the inn on the Izu Peninsula. When he arrives, both Tomoko and he play the roles expected of them. Tomoko kneels before her husband and says that the accident was her fault, and Masaru expresses understanding and sympathy. The two bodies are found the next day, and both parents begin to experience the emotions associated with a traumatic loss. Tomoko resents her husband’s grief over the death of Yasue, for example, thinking that it somehow diminishes his feelings for his dead children. She masters her feelings and does the conventional thing when Masaru’s parents come up from Kanazawa for the funerals. She assumes responsibility for the accident again and apologizes to her husband’s father and mother. To her own parents, however, Tomoko complains, “But who should they feel sorriest for? Haven’t I just lost two children? There they all are, accusing me.” In the days and weeks following the accident, Tomoko struggles with ambivalent feelings. At times she seeks punishment for her guilty sense that by leaving the children under Yasue’s control, she is genuinely responsible for their deaths. At other times she seeks sympathy for her loss and seems to nurse her sorrow.

Tomoko also fears that another accident will occur. Masaru had had an accident with the car shortly before she had gone on vacation and will not ride in the car with her husband if Katsuo is going with them. Visiting Tama Cemetery to see the lot Masaru has bought for the burial of his sister and children, Tomoko will not allow Katsuo to drink from a public water fountain. She is afraid of germs and carries boiled water for him to drink. On the way back from the cemetery, Tomoko buys her son a toy from a vendor in the train station, and for a moment, thinking that Kiyoo and Keiko have been left at home, wants to buy something for the other children, too. Despite such occasional tricks of the mind, Tomoko adjusts to her loss but with great difficulty. For a time she keeps herself busy going to plays and concerts; later...

(This entire section contains 787 words.)

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she takes up sewing. Both activities allow her not to think about the accident.

That winter Tomoko learns that she is pregnant once more, and with this change “forgetfulness came as a natural right.” Both Masaru and she feel like spectators, rather than participants, in the events of the summer. The accident comes more and more to seem like something that happened to other people. Tomoko finds it possible to reduce the incident to the clichéd statement that one must watch children constantly at the beach. The past seems to be closed with the birth, the following summer, of a daughter named Momoko; when the new baby is a year old, however, Tomoko expresses the wish to go back to the beach on the Izu Peninsula. She does not want to go alone. As the entire Ikuta family stands on the beach, Masaru sees in Tomoko’s face an expression familiar since the accident. She looks out to sea as if she were waiting for something, the implication being that she is waiting for Kiyoo and Keiko to return.