The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

by Yukio Mishima
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Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 265

Themes in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea include family, punishment, and ideals.

Ideals play a large role in the story. Noboru has an idea of who he wants his mother's boyfriend to be—a masculine sailor and hero. Ryuji himself wants to be that man to some...

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Themes in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea include family, punishment, and ideals.

Ideals play a large role in the story. Noboru has an idea of who he wants his mother's boyfriend to be—a masculine sailor and hero. Ryuji himself wants to be that man to some extent but also recognizes the reality of a life at sea; he knows that he will be bored and lonely. Noboru's mother is scared of the stereotypical life of a sailor's woman. She doesn't want to be constantly left. Ryuji is able to give up the dream of a life at sea for a life with her, but Noboru can't let go of the feeling of betrayal he gets from Ryuji when the man doesn't live up to his ideals.

Punishment is another major theme in the book. Noboru uses his peephole on nights that his mother punishes him. The boys in Noboru's group decide that they need to punish Ryuji for deciding to marry Noboru's mother and become his father. This is after Ryuji decides that he and his fiancee don't need to punish Noboru for the peephole; Noboru respects him less for the leniency. The boys ultimately murder Ryuji for these supposed crimes.

Family is another important theme. Noboru's father is dead and he hates the idea of Ryuji taking on such a role. His mother is unable to control him and he constantly lies to her and deceives her. When they decide to create a new family, Noboru takes that possibility away by plotting and participating in the murder of Ryuji.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

The desire to harmonize an external and internal world, the needs of the flesh and the spirit, and the qualities of modern and traditional values is a concern that runs through many of Yukio Mishima’s novels, including The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. This desire, which often leads to tragedy, is best illustrated through the character of the sailor, and, by association, through the eyes of Noboru. For both man and boy, the sea symbolizes beauty, power, glory, and death. When Noboru spies on Ryuji making love to his mother, the sailor is described in sea like terms: His muscles are like the ropes on a ship and they “ripple” down his chest; he is “cast from the matrix of the sea”; the gold flesh of his chest “rises and falls.” As for Ryuji’s own vision of himself, he dreams of glory “surging in to flood him,” and he feels it “knifing toward him like a shark” through the water.

Both men also incorporate a woman, Fusako, into this picture of glory. On that first night, as Ryuji makes love to her and Noboru watches, the moonlight over the sea reflects through her bedroom windows, and she gives off a sweaty, “musky” fragrance. In a rare gesture, she wears a kimono, and as she undresses, the gown makes a “swishing” sound, like sails unfurling, as it falls to the floor. The wail of the ship’s horn is noticed by both the sailor and boy, and each associates the woman with the sea, with glory, and with death.

Yet these are only illusions, for the internal order, the spirit, has its opposite side in an external order, the flesh. Ryuji is lured away from the internal order of the sea and its connection to man’s spirit by the external world of land and its comforts. While Noboru has a strange link to the sailor’s own desires, they are too abstract; thus, when Ryuji gives up the sea for the woman, it is proof that he has lost his heroic stature. The sailor fired Noboru’s “imagination,” which had up to this point been “helpless” and dormant, just as the sea had once fired Ryuji’s imagination. Yet like a quasi-mythological sea creature, when he turns his back on the sea, in much the same way as the Greek hero Odysseus, he loses his “manliness” and is doomed. As in other of Mishima’s works, the necessity to harmonize these opposing forces is a life-and-death struggle, with death usually winning. Death, too, is a symbol, not necessarily of defeat, but, as the Chief states, the only way to achieve “universal order” in a chaotic world.

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