Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Yukio Mishima was a writer who became obsessed by what he saw as the loss of Japanese traditional values, although he led a cosmopolitan and bizarre life. He used his writing success to fund a small private army, the Shield Society, to fight against Communism and support a prewar vision of the emperor as the soul of the Japanese nation. However, he was also an exhibitionist inspired by violence and homosexuality. Sexuality and violence are combined in “Patriotism,” in retrospect perhaps the most revealing of Mishima’s works, because the author, like his protagonist Takeyama, committed seppuku.

On November 25, 1970, Mishima led a band of his private army to the headquarters of the Japanese Self Defense Forces, where he told the troops to show the “samurai spirit” to protect the “Imperial Way.” These prewar sentiments were derided by the soldiers, who saw Mishima as a crackpot. Mishima then showed his sincerity by withdrawing from the balcony on which he was speaking and disemboweling himself. The nation was shocked at this spectacular and strange death of one of Japan’s most popular writers. It is difficult to consider his writing without reference to his suicide.

In “Patriotism,” written more than a decade earlier, one can see an early sign of Mishima’s linking sex and death, or ecstasy and agony, in his version of the Takeyama suicide. The theme of this very tight story—the focus is on the suicide—is the honor and...

(The entire section is 560 words.)