Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ first appeared in English in 1966 in Death in Midsummer and Other Stories , translated by American scholars of Japanese literature Edward Seidensticker, Donald Keene, Ivan Morris and Geoffrey Sargent. The collection includes nine short stories and one modern Noh play. Already internationally renowned, Mishima received much praise...

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‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ first appeared in English in 1966 in Death in Midsummer and Other Stories, translated by American scholars of Japanese literature Edward Seidensticker, Donald Keene, Ivan Morris and Geoffrey Sargent. The collection includes nine short stories and one modern Noh play. Already internationally renowned, Mishima received much praise in the United States for the collection, particularly for its honest, however unsettling, depictions of modern Japanese life. Robert Trumbull in the May 1, 1966 New York Times Book Review praised the stories for their sharp ‘‘sociological study’’ and John Wain comments in the May 30, 1966 Newsweek : ‘‘His new collection . . . is Mishima at his very best—cool and urbane, mixing East and West, impassively shuffling and relating the feudal past to the consumer present.’’

‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ did not receive as much attention as some of the other stories and was often bypassed for discussions of ‘‘Three Million Yen,’’ ‘‘Patriotism,’’ and ‘‘Onnagata.’’ ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ addresses similar themes as the three stories that received more public attention, but does so more subtly. For instance, ‘‘Three Million Yen’’ tells the story of a young Japanese couple who desire material luxuries. They seem to carry on a conventional life of a wealth and status conscious couple, but they are actually hiring themselves out for private sex shows in order to make money. ‘‘Onnagata’’ addresses the homosexual life of traditional Kabuki performers who play women (the title of the story is the name of the actors of this genre), and ‘‘Patriotism’’ recounts the story of an officer embroiled in the NiNi Roku incident and his double seppuku with his wife, which is described in gory and painstaking detail. All three stories offer a critique of Japan under the modernizing influence of the west but through sensational and spectacular content, both for the western and Japanese reader. ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ also provides this kind of critique but without the eye-popping content of suicide, homosexuality, and prostitution. Perhaps the several reviewers indifference to or criticism of the story (Robert Smith in the Arizona Quarterly, 1966 calls it ‘‘slight’’) is indicative of the modern popular taste for sensational and fantastic stories. Ironically, this is precisely the kind of cultural degradation that Mishima challenges in ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ and several of the other stories in this collection.

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Essays and Criticism