The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

by Yukio Mishima
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 201

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima is about Ryuji Tsukazaki, a sailor who is in search of glory. Ryuji happens to meet Noboru Kuroda, whom adores him. The two meet through Noboru’s mother, Fuskao, who is in a romantic relationship with the sailor. Ryuji and Noboru have similar views on how life should be lived. Noboru, who is 13 years old, like his peers, has a negative view of the adult world. They consider it phony, sentimental, and misleading. Therefore, they strive to be more objective than adults and behave in a callous—and very violent—manner.

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Ryuji believes in glory and constantly travels the seas in pursuit of it. He has never seen himself settling on land. However, when he meets Fusako, he has a change of heart. Noboru continues to admire Ryuji as the sailor’s relationship with his mother intensifies. However, one day, the boys realize that Ryuji is no different from the rest of the adults. Out of anger, Noboru takes part in a violent ritual that results in Ryuji's death.

The story looks at Noboru’s and Ryuji’s fascination with beauty and honor, which they attain through different means.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1555

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is as much a story about the sailor Ryuji Tsukazaki as it is about thirteen-year-old Noboru Kuroda, who shares many of the same dreams as Ryuji, witnesses his downfall, and even participates in his ritualistic death. The novel examines the young boy’s and the older man’s desire for glory, beauty, and control, and their connections, all too often, with betrayal and death.

As the novel opens, Noboru finds himself bored and alone in his mother’s house. While rummaging through an old chest of drawers built into the wall between his bedroom and his mother’s, he discovers a small hole in the wood which allows him a fairly complete view of his mother’s room. From that point on, when his mother is severe with him, he begins spying on her at night. What he sees is a thirty-three-year-old widow, Fusako Kuroda, sitting in front of her mirror naked, with “scented fingers rooted between her thighs.” As he watches her caress her body, his curiosity is more philosophical than sexual, and he associates the “zone of black” beneath her fingers with a “pitiful little vacant house,” and his own empty world.

His mother’s room also holds a different attraction for him, for her windows overlook the ships in the harbor. Noboru has a fascination for ships, and his mother takes him to visit a tramp steamer one day. Their guide is Second Mate Tsukazaki. Both Noboru and Fusako are attracted to him. The boy sees the sailor as a hero, a “fantastic beast that’s just come out of the sea.” Fusako, a lonely widow, sees him as a man and takes him as a lover. As Noboru watches them make love in his mother’s room, the sailor, his mother, the sea, and Noboru, himself, achieve a sort of “universal order” signaled by the faraway scream of a ship’s horn. This ideal harmony is the “miracle” of which Noboru has always dreamed, and he vows to let nothing destroy it.

Noboru, however, is not the only one with a dream. Ryuji is drawn to the sea because he feels “destined for glory,” and he believes that the sea is the only place he could find it. Closely linked to his passion for the sea and for glory is the idea of death. Thus as he makes love to Fusako on that first evening, he, too, hears the wail of the ship’s horn, and for him the woman, the sea, and death become as one. He spends three days with her, and during that time comes to the realization that the glory for which he is destined will never come. He is tired of waiting. He tries to tell Fusako about his dreams, but all that comes out are stories of his travels. She thinks of them as simple, pleasant tales, but when Noboru hears them all he can think about is the adventure of foreign travel. For him, Ryuji is a hero.

The image of the hero begins to falter for Noboru the next day, when he meets Ryuji walking in the park. The boy is with the Chief and the other four members of the gang. He has boasted of his mother’s lover and is eager to show him off. Ryuji, however, makes a fatal mistake. He tries to win the boy’s friendship with an “overbright and artificial” smile reminiscent of all adults wishing to “mollify” a child. To make matters worse, Noboru has lied to his mother about where he would be that day and with whom he would be. He asks Ryuji not to tell his mother where he saw him, and when Ryuji agrees, Noboru is disappointed at his eagerness, again, to please the boy.

Noboru has a reason to be worried, for he and the other boys are returning from a ritual murder and vivisection of a cat. Noboru and his friends consider themselves “genuises,” boys set apart from the world and its rules. They meet in secret places, call one another by ranking numbers instead of names, and discuss a type of nihilistic philosophy. For them, the adult world, especially fathers, are the enemy. They are searching for some sort of “internal order” to the chaos in the world and seem to find it only in the sea and death, or control over death. On this particular day the Chief has decided to put them all to the test of their convictions, especially Noboru, boy number three. They find a stray cat and take it to a shed behind the Chief’s house. There Noboru is told to kill it, after each boy has held it and caressed it. He flings the cat up against a log twice before it dies, feeling a “resplendent power” throughout his body. The other boys, all naked, stand watching and are “overjoyed at the spattered blood” of the cat. The Chief puts on a pair of rubber gloves, picks up a pair of scissors, and begins to dissect the cat. As Noboru stares at the entrails and the blood, he finds a “wholeness and perfection in the rapture of the dead kitten’s large languid soul.” Death has produced a “perfect, autonomous world.” He has passed the test, and is now a man.

That evening as Fusako and Ryuji spend one last night together, Noboru is in his room contemplating the “crimes” Ryuji has committed: He smiled at him in a “cowardly” manner; he sprayed himself with cool water in the park like a common bum; and he kept his mother out all night, depriving Noboru of the pleasure of watching them make love. The next day when Ryuji leaves for another voyage, Noboru watches his actions closely. Ryuji manages to regain some of his lost stature when he behaves like the “perfect” sailor, “a man leaving a woman behind to voyage around the world.” Ryuji boards the ship, leaving behind not only the woman but also the land on which he finally feels comfortable.

Several months pass before Ryuji returns. It is December 30, and Fusako is waiting for him. There is an unspoken agreement that when Ryuji returns he will stay in Fusako’s house. When Noboru sees him, his first question is when will the sailor leave again. The boy is outraged when Ryuji replies “I’m not sure.” With rage, Noboru enters this answer as another of Ryuji’s “crimes,” along with the fact that he returned in the first place. Over the next few weeks his anger grows as he realizes that Ryuji is planning to marry his mother and not return to the sea. For Noboru and his friends, Ryuji is about to commit the ultimate crime: He is about to become a father, Noboru’s father. Further, in addition to renouncing the sea, he exchanges his sailor’s clothes for a suit and tie and goes with Fusako to learn how to help manage her clothing store. When Noboru tells the gang what is happening, the Chief tells him not to worry, he will think of something that will, once again, return Ryuji’s hero status to him.

The night Noboru hears about the marriage plans he crawls into the chest of drawers, hoping to watch his mother and Ryuji again. He falls asleep reading by the light of a flashlight, and in his mother’s darkened room Ryuji sees the pinpoint of light through the wall and realizes that Noboru has been spying on them. When confronted, Noboru remains silent. Ryuji struggles over how to handle the situation, and as far as Noboru is concerned, he chooses the wrong decision. He reasons with Noboru instead of punishing him. Had Ryuji beaten him, it would have been better. Noboru is convinced that Ryuji is not the hero he once was.

In an emergency meeting of the gang, Noboru produces a list of eighteen crimes charged against Ryuji. The Chief decides that there is only one way to save him and gives the other six members specific instructions. Noboru is to invite Ryuji on an outing with the gang. The other members are to bring the following items: a thermos of hot tea, some rope, a gag and blindfold, some cups, and any kind of cutting tools they can find. The Chief will produce the sleeping pills and the scalpel. He tells them that this is their last chance to return “internal order” to the world.

The next day, Ryuji, pleased at the invitation and dressed once again in his sailor’s clothes, follows the gang to a deserted hill overlooking the sea. As they sit beneath the tree, Ryuji tells them stories about the sea. His stories, however, fascinate him more than the boys this time, and his mind wanders back to his days of longing for glory. The boys take advantage of his inattention and prepare the drugged tea. Ryuji sits lost in his stories, looking out over the sea and thinks: “I could have been a man sailing away forever.” Again his dreams of glory unite the sea, women, and death. Now, however, he has abandoned those dreams. Noboru nervously hands him a cup, and, “still immersed in his dream,” the sailor drinks down the bitter tea.

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