The Sea of Fertility

by Yukio Mishima

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The Characters

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The two main characters in each of these novels seem to exemplify Yukio Mishima’s own obsession with youth and his horror of growing old. The four young characters of the tetralogy reflect aspects of Mishima himself: the adoration of physical perfection which compelled him to turn his frail frame into a well-muscled body; the concern for the literary aesthetic above politics or religion; the devotion to the ideal of the manly warrior which led Mishima to kill himself in the painful Japanese ritual of seppuku.

Kiyoaki, in Spring Snow, is described as an elegant, extraordinarily beautiful young man. His character seems to forecast his fate. An intensely sensitive young man, prone to melancholy, he is attracted to Satoko because she is his equal in elegance. He despises the majority of his schoolmates, his parents, and the adults in his world for their crudeness and rude vitality. His death at twenty is inevitable for someone of his aesthetic sensibility, for only thus can the essential monomania of his nature be preserved. In the next volume, Isao is notable for his physical skill at kendo and his worship of traditional Japanese ideals, much like Mishima toward the end of his life. Isao’s early death ensures that he will never compromise his need for purity. The third reincarnation, in the Thai princess Ying Chan, is glimpsed only through Honda’s attraction to her exotic dark beauty. Her early death, from a snakebite, retains the flavor of an eroticized death so central to Mishima’s life and work. The last young character, Toru, is obsessed with clarity, a sense that he is special because he can see through the false surface reality of the world. By implying that Toru may be a false incarnation, Mishima suggests that even a soul, like a body, degenerates with age.

Honda is in some ways the major character of the cycle of novels, for it is his point of view which comes to dominate. Mishima’s theory that the longer people live, the less admirable they become is manifested in Honda, who gradually degenerates from the studious young man and loyal friend in the first novel to the cynical and perverted old man in the fourth. His faith in reason and logic is undermined by each successive reincarnation. He may represent Mishima’s attempt to imagine one part of himself, the realistic man of the world, growing old. When Honda is forty-six, seeing his reflection in a mirror, he thinks that it is “the face of a man who has lived too long”—a suggestive remark, since Mishima committed suicide when he was forty-five.

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