Critical Context

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Mishima’s revolt and suicide mimicked one of the most famous events of Japanese history, the Ni Ni Roku incident of February 26, 1936, in which army officers tried to force the emperor into a militaristic position by occupying parts of Tokyo. Their revolt was crushed, but Mishima wrote a laudatory short story, “Yukoku” (“Patriotism”), about an officer who, although not actually part of the revolt, favored its objectives. He knows that he will be asked to lead an attack against his comrades and chooses seppuku as an honorable way out of his dilemma. His wife, a bride of only a few months, stabs herself. The couple make love before their suicides, so the story is an intense blend of eroticism and violence. Mishima also played the role of the officer in a film of the story that is so graphic that some members of the audience fainted.

The theme of tragic fulfillment through violent death which is the central idea of Sun and Steel appears frequently in Mishima’s fiction, often coupled with an act of revolt like the attempted coup which triggered his suicide. Another of Mishima’s works based, like “Patriotism,” on an actual incident is the novel Kinkakuji (1956; The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, 1959), in which a Zen Buddhist student burns down a sacred temple. In Homba (1969; Runaway Horses, 1973), the protagonist commits seppuku. Yukio Mishima wrote works which scintillate with many ideas and emotions leading to a multiplicity of interpretations. It is therefore too much to say that Sun and Steel provides the answers to the meaning of his life’s work, but it certainly does supply the key to the meaning of his death.

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