Widely regarded as one of the most philosophical and thought-provoking novelists of the post-World War II period, Yukio Mishima produced twenty-five major works of fiction, concentrating on contemporary Japan but embracing universal literary and philosophical themes. These themes he presents in such dichotomies as art and nature, literature and life, asceticism and hedonism, mind and body, and Eastern and Western culture. His portrayals of art and beauty, love and death, nearly always involved some shocking exposure of deviant sexuality, such as Noboru’s voyeurism. Unlike conventional authors, Mishima sought to remain in the public eye, advertising both his aestheticism and his political conservatism. As a final act of staged publicity, he committed suicide in full military regalia watched by thousands on television.
The original Japanese title Gogo no eik, literally meaning “towing in the afternoon,” conceals a pun on eik, which stands for “glory” as well as “towing.” Since this pun cannot be translated into English, Mishima selected the English title that the novel now bears from a list devised by his translator. It presumably means that Ryuji, by abandoning the sea, deviated from his destined role in the universal order and therefore fell from an approved position. Throughout the novel, the sea is a metaphor for woman, sex, glory, and death, elements that are continually interwoven.
Events are narrated from the perspective of only two characters, Ryuji and Noboru. They are foils for each other, Ryuji representing bodily development and romantic optimism, and Noboru standing for intellect, youth, and carnal nihilism. Ryuji may be seen as an idealistic figure, hopelessly obsessed by the trinity of the sea, feminine beauty, and death. These elements are united in his recurrent dream of a man lured by a perfect woman into a...
(The entire section is 770 words.)