Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima is a novel that examines and articulates the complexities of developing one's identity at a young age. It also focuses on one's existential position in the world, as well as death. The sailor referred to in the title, Ryuji, is a young man who has lived out at sea all his life.
He believes that the sailor's life will lead him to his own personal definition of glory. As a man who has learned to disconnect from the land and people, literally and figuratively, the domestic life is considered imprisonment.
The other main character in the story is Noboru, a thirteen-year old boy who lives with his widowed mother. Early in the story, Noboru exhibits high intelligence and a nihilistic, if not irrational, perspective on life and the world around him.
He is a curious adolescent and this curiosity leads him to eccentric practices, as well as the development of sociopathic tendencies. For example, when he discovers a hole in the wall that gives him a view of his mother's bedroom, he watches her masturbate in front of the mirror. Whilst watching her commit the act does not arouse him, such as in the case of oedipal complex, he continues watching whilst other normal children might have stopped in disgust.
He even constructs an analogy of her masturbation as an act of loneliness and despair, and that her crotch represents a dark void that one must not fall victim to. When Noboru, at the insistence of the psychopathic gang he associates with, brutally kills a stray cat, he becomes transfixed by the entrails and blood as the leader of the gang dissects it.
The boys—naked and covered in blood—believe that death brings a restoration to the order of the universe. Because death is a natural part of the life cycle and violence is inherent in the nature of the universe, Noboru concludes that death is the purest form of existence and the most exemplary form of the nature's undisturbed rhythm.
Additionally, Noboru feels a godly sense of power instead of remorse for killing the innocent cat. This sociopathic behavior coupled with his own existentialist-cosmological philosophy shows that Noboru believes he has transcended the material world, and is an entity that holds the power of life and death. If someone doesn't fit into his worldview or possess the same principles he values, then they are enemies of the cosmological order.
That is why when Ryuji begins to commit what Noboru considers "crimes" and exhibit what Noboru believes is weakness, Ryuji becomes a fallen hero to him. In Noboru's eyes, Ryuji goes from hero to enemy by deciding to leave the sailor's life and settle with Noboru's mother. Noboru believes that if man has not reached glory, or stopped reaching for it, then he is not fit to live.