Swaddling Clothes

by Yukio Mishima

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Why is the story titled "Swaddling Clothes"?

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This title was given to the story when it was translated. Its original title means "newspapers" in Japanese. The title refers to the newspapers that a doctor wrapped Toshiko’s nurse's baby in when he was born. Towards the end of the story, Toshiko sees a homeless man sleeping on a bench in a park who is also covered by newspapers. She imagines that this is how the nurse's baby will grow up - born in newspapers, dies in newspapers.

I think the title is symbolic because the Christ child was wrapped in swaddling clothes when he was born. The family was poor and they had no clothing, so they wrapped him in rags. When Christ was crucified, he was also clothed in rags and the Roman soldiers cast lots for his "robe" at the foot of the cross. The nurse's baby is a type of sacrificial lamb on the alter of the "immoral" western society. The negative influences of western society, which is at the heart of this novel's theme, have been a destructive force in the life of this child because the nurse has acted counter to the traditional Japanese culture and become pregnant out of wedlock. So her baby is doomed to live a life of poverty and die the same way he came into the world, wrapped in newspapers.

Some colleagues and I were recently discussing the title of this work and we had some very different ideas about it. One of my colleagues believes that giving the storyl the title "Swaddling Clothes" was an ethnocentric interpretation on the part of the translator (Ivan Morris), who was probably thinking like a westerner and not an Asian. She thought that the idea of swaddling clothes as it appears in the Bible would not be something that an Asian would have thought of. What do you think about this? An interesting thought to consider, no?

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