Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Scholars say that a literal translation of the title of this story is “waste newspapers.” Although the English title, “Swaddling Clothes,” is not entirely accurate, ironically, it captures a central tension of the tale. With this title the warm white flannel evoked by the English term is conflated with the dirty newspapers that first swathe the newborn child. The child in the dramatic birthing scene is visible throughout the tale in a series of tensions; the cherished child in clean flannel contrasts with the bloodied paper wrappings that declare this child trash, a piece of meat, a throwaway life.

As the pristine flannel and the soiled papers are held in tension, so are other objects and persons united. Two powerful images are conflated in the story: images of cherry blossoms and images of newspapers. To Toshiko the artificial cherry blossoms on the theater marquee are revealed to be shreds of paper; she walks down the park path beneath an umbrella of blossoming trees with heaps of waste paper at her feet, and at first the sheets of paper draping the vagrant on the bench glow in the darkness like a blanket of cherry blossoms. Both the blossoms and the newspapers suggest transience, one the transience of events natural, the other the transience of events humanmade. The blossoms evoke an entire genteel aesthetic and the most ancient traditions of Japan. The other suggests the blaring emptiness of modern Western lifestyles of conspicuous consumption. Most dramatically, the newspapers unite the bastard child born in Toshiko’s nursery with the malign force of the shadowy figure of her future destruction. This small tale of horror lifts a corner of the veneer of Japanese contemporary life and reveals the madness and violence beneath.


(The entire section is 725 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Art in a Political World
The Japan that Mishima lived and worked in had little reprieve from political upheavals. As an...

(The entire section is 980 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View and Fragmented Narration
‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ is not narrated in a straightforward, linear style. While...

(The entire section is 800 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1868: Ascendancy of Meiji government, characterized by adoption of western economic, social, and political practices. The Meiji period...

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Investigate the history and progression of western influence in Japan and other Asian countries. Try to find sources that speak from the...

(The entire section is 624 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Kamen no Kokuhaku [Confessions of a Mask (1949)] by Yukio Mishima. A widely acclaimed autobiographical novel exploring...

(The entire section is 600 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Ford, Gerald. ‘‘Proclamation 4417: An American Promise,’’ in Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in...

(The entire section is 640 words.)