The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

by Yukio Mishima

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In essence, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima is a novel about existentialism and nihilism. One can also argue that the main character Mizoguchi is a portrait of a sociopath. When his father dies, Mizoguchi does not feel any emotions, or at the very least, he does not show them during the cremation ceremony. He also has a tumultuous relationship with his mother, which stems from witnessing her have sex with another man.

So from an early age, Mizoguchi was already conditioned to distrust and avert relationships with people. This is evident when he feels pleasure lying to one of the closest friends he's ever had. This sociopathic behavior can also be seen with how he reacts to the miscarriage of a prostitute.

In fact, the closest thing Mizoguchi has to a relationship with a woman is through emotionally-detached sex. He is merely fulfilling primal desires of the flesh, but he can never fill the void that has kept him unhappy and lonely. The novel explores the alienation that many young Japanese men felt during the war and after Japan's defeat.

However, in Mizoguchi's case, the political environment is secondary. Mizoguchi was born with what might possibly considered manic depression. He had always felt alienated and isolated; not just geographically in his hometown, but socially and psychologically as well.

The novel also explores the concept of beauty and aesthetics. However, beauty in the novel is, in a sense, a code word for enlightenment. Mizoguchi's obsession with the beauty of the Golden Pavilion is not superficial beauty—since he himself opined that he was disappointed upon seeing it for the first time—but symbolizes higher ideals such as happiness and spiritual freedom.

By the end of the novel, however, Mizoguchi realizes that the ideals he projects on to the Golden Pavilion is a sort of Shangri-La: a mythical place and an illusion. He believes that breaking free from this illusion will take him back to reality, where he will finally find happiness and a will to live.

This is, of course, contradictory, because in the beginning, it was the ugliness of reality that made him feel trapped and alienated, and which made him idealize the Golden Pavilion's beauty.

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