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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

Investigate the history and progression of western influence in Japan and other Asian countries. Try to find sources that speak from the point of view of the Asian citizens whose lives were radically altered by the infiltration of their countries by western economic, social and political systems. In each specific...

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Investigate the history and progression of western influence in Japan and other Asian countries. Try to find sources that speak from the point of view of the Asian citizens whose lives were radically altered by the infiltration of their countries by western economic, social and political systems. In each specific case, what were the motivations of the western countries in exploring and penetrating Asia? In your opinion, has this ‘‘globalization’’ mutually benefited both western countries and Asia, or has it harmed either party? In ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ western influence is portrayed in a negative light. Using your historical research, argue for or against Mishima’s critical view of westernization and modernization.

Toshiko is portrayed as a somewhat contradictory character. She primarily wants to hold on to and revive traditional Japanese ethics and mores, but she also challenges those values. For instance, she walks around the park at night despite the impropriety of this action and she sympathetically wraps the nurse’s baby in a new piece of flannel when both her husband and the doctor have dismissed the event as ignoble, grotesque and scandalous. How do these contradictory actions modify the characterization of Toshiko as a conservative proponent of tradition? Though she is disheartened by the modernization around her, is there a different kind of change and social transformation that she might support?

‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ portrays the nurse’s conception and birth of a baby out of wedlock negatively. In a sense, the nurse is an example of a modern day working-class, single mother. Given the contemporary debate over single motherhood especially in impoverished rural and urban environments, is the nurse’s situation entirely condemnable? What are the modern social, economic, political and racial factors that lock contemporary single mothers and their children into oppressive situations? Is Toshiko’s characterization of the illegitimate baby growing up to be ‘‘a lonely rat’’ fair and accurate? Is a baby born in ‘‘ignoble’’ circumstances forever bound to a lowly position in society? Use contemporary articles from magazines and newspapers to support your point of view.

As a story contrasting the purity of tradition to the contamination of modern influences, ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ ‘‘punishes’’ those who dare to step outside of traditional boundaries. The nurse and her child are cast as eternally shameful and worthy of mockery, and Toshiko in one daring moment of impropriety is attacked and possibly killed. In contrast, Toshiko’s husband and his male friends have embraced modern life, yet they do not suffer any consequences. On the contrary, they appear to continue carousing and thoroughly enjoy themselves in a modern style. Why does the burden of preserving culture fall on women? Using anthropological or sociological sources that focus on change in traditional societies, explore the assumed gender roles of such cultures. What customs and traditions are men and women expected to fulfill and carry on? In which cases are either women or men disproportionately responsible for preserving culture?

The ending of ‘‘Swaddling Clothes’’ is intentionally left ambiguous. In your interpretation, what happens to Toshiko? Is she raped? Murdered? Both? Might she have survived and even retaliated against her attacker? Given the highly symbolic nature of the story, what are the implications of these various endings? For instance, since Toshiko symbolizes the preservation of traditional values, would her survival of the attack imply that these values can persevere? If she doesn’t survive, does the story cast an incontrovertible pall on the possibilities of such preservation?

Look for other fictional or autobiographical works that employ a fragmented narrative style. How does the disruption of the progressive, linear narrative enhance or obscure the thematic content of these works? Identify other non-traditional narrative styles. What kind of ‘‘message’’ might the author be sending by using unconventional narrative styles?

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