Yukio Mishima Short Fiction Analysis - Essay

Yukio Mishima Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The world will never know what course the literary career of Yukio Mishima might have taken had he not died at age forty-five. Nevertheless, he was the best known of post-World War II writers among critics and readers outside Japan, and he received a fair share of attention within his own country. Not all of his work was of equal literary merit, but a certain unevenness is almost certain for a prolific writer.

Apart from his style, usually ornate and meticulously wrought, Mishima’s success stemmed in part from his effectiveness in capturing the sense of void and despair that typified many Japanese during the postwar period. Another key to his success lay in his unusual interest in Japanese cultural tradition. His abilities, unique among his peers, enabled him to write in the genre of classical Kabuki and N plays.

“The Forest in Full Bloom”

Mishima’s early works represent a period that both clarified the directions in which his talents would go and developed features that would become trademarks of his later works. He came to realize that poetry was not to be his major effort. In 1941, the year he was graduated from the Peer’s School, he published his first long work, “The Forest in Full Bloom” in October, at the age of sixteen. The maturity of style in this juvenile work amazed his mentors and peers. The sophisticated word choice is noteworthy, but its maturity goes much farther; it establishes the major theme of his life’s work, for he was well on his way to evolving the aesthetic formula that would distinguish his work: Longing leads to beauty; beauty generates ecstasy; ecstasy leads to death. Likewise, the sea, an important motif throughout his writing, is associated with death. Indeed, as Donald Keene has noted, Mishima seemed to be “intoxicated with the beauty of early death.”

Death in Midsummer, and Other Stories

Preoccupation with death is obvious even in the title of the short-story collection that constitutes Mishima’s major short fiction, Death in Midsummer, and Other Stories. The title story, “Death in Midsummer,” takes an epigraph from one of Charles Baudelaire’s poems that translates as “Death affects us more deeply under the stately reign of summer.” The psychological realism of Mishima’s presentation of the family’s reactions to three deaths in the family is the focus of the story. Masaru and Tomoko Ikuta have two sons, Kiyoo and Katsuo, and a daughter, Keiko. Yasue, Tomoko’s sister-in-law, is baby-sitting the children while Tomoko takes an afternoon nap. Despite warnings to the children against wandering away, during a brief moment when Yasue is preoccupied with other thoughts, two of the children disappear, leaving the three-year-old Katsuo alone, crying. When Yasue realizes what has happened, she is stricken with a heart attack and dies. Informed of Yasue’s accident, Tomoko “felt a sort of sweet emptiness come over her. She was not sad.” (This is only one of several passages in which a dearth of feeling is expressed.) Only then does she inquire about the children; she finds Katsuo, who informs her that “Kiyoo Keiko all bubbles.” Tomoko is afraid; she sends her husband a telegram telling him that Yasue is dead and that the two children are missing, although by now it is clear that the children have drowned.

Masaru prepares to go down to the resort where the family was vacationing. Devoid of any emotion, he feels more like a detective speculating on the circumstances of death than a distraught father. Intuitively, he senses that the children are dead, not simply missing. When he arrives at the resort, he hears that three people have died, and his thoughts turn to how to approach his wife. Funeral preparations are made. Tomoko is conscious of the incongruity of her almost insane grief alongside her businesslike attention to detail and her large appetite at such a time. She vacillates between a feeling of guilt and her knowledge that she did not cause the deaths. Dissatisfied, she believes that Yasue is lucky to be dead because she does not have to feel that she has been “demoted and condemned” by relatives. Mishima here intrudes to comment that although Tomoko does not know it, it is her “poverty of human emotions” that is most troubling her.

On the surface, life returns to normal, but Tomoko associates almost everything with the tragic accident, while Masaru takes refuge in his work. Tomoko questions the fact that “she was living, the others...

(The entire section is 1845 words.)