The Sea of Fertility

by Yukio Mishima

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Themes and Meanings

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The title of the tetralogy comes, according to Mishima, from the name of one of the craters or “seas” of the moon, Mare Foecunditatis. That the craters of the moon are barren suggests the underlying theme of the tetralogy: The apparent fecundity of human life—the sea of life—is ultimately, like the craters of the moon, arid and meaningless.

The fascination with death so evident in this work is a recurrent theme in Mishima’s writing, curiously complemented by the preoccupation with reincarnation. Though the idea of reincarnation links the four novels, Mishima’s religious underpinnings in this tetralogy are shaky. The literary device of the three moles which helps Honda to recognize the various incarnations is brilliant technically, linking a pair of characters in each volume and unifying this epic work. It is harder to reconcile with the idea that the essence of a spirit, not a body, is reincarnated. Moreover, the slick ending, when Honda is forced to consider if he has not invented these recurring characters, casts the whole reincarnation doctrine into doubt. Mishima seems to have concluded that even this hope of life after death is illusory.

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