Gender Roles in The Sound of Waves

April 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Yukio Mishima’s classic twentieth century novel, The Sound of Waves, one might initially hold some misconceptions towards the message of the story. It’s simple enough easily spot certain seemingly-sexist elements and immediately make the judgement that Mishima was a misogynist and plotted to display this in his writing. With the constant objectification of women, females’ inferior domestic roles, and the patriarchal dominance in the novel, it is not difficult to make this judgement. After examining certain literary elements of the text, however, it is clear to see that the idea of sexism is not what the novel aims to highlight. Through the use of imagery, syntax, and characterization, Mishima communicates a sincere tone that lets the reader know the novel is not a stab at the female gender; he simply attempts to convey the idea that growing up is a turbulent process for all, as seen through his characters Shinji and Hatsue.

The first literary element, and possibly the most simple for the reader to see, is the use of visual imagery. In The Sound of Waves, mentions of nature are common and symbolic. The story starts out with a picture of serenity. Mishima writes of the “surpassingly beautiful views” from the cliffs of Uta-Jima and the “calm seas” (Mishima 4). To begin with, the descriptions not only set a picturesque scene, but also symbolize Shinji’s and Hatsue’s purity and innocence before their departure towards adulthood. Additionally, the narration from the viewpoint of the cliffs suggests that perhaps the story is in for a downfall — much like the downs and ups of growing old. The emotional roller coaster of maturity is again supported by descriptive pictures of the natural setting surrounding the teenagers. When Hatsue and Shinij secretly meet, the storm outside is representative of the swelling excitement and nerves that the two are feeling. As “the ground swell[s]” and “the beach [is] aroar with incoming waves,” the reader can imagine that Hatsue’s and Shinji’s emotions are swelling and roaring just like the storm (64). This use of imagery reinforces Mishima’s sincere tone, as he is so honest towards what the story is, he connects it to the natural forces that surround the lovers.

Mishima’s blunt tone is again supported by an effective use of syntax. At the start of the novel, Mishima describes the first encounter between Hatsue and Shinji. He uses this as an opportunity to inform the reader of the physical appearances of the two protagonists. Through the use of parallel structure, it is clear to see that Mishima is giving both characters a fair and equal assessment; he is not pointing out the female’s flaws any more than he is pointing out Shinji’s. First, Shinji’s is described in detail. Mishima writes: “He was tall and well-built beyond his years” (6). Soon after this, when describing Hatsue, Mishima points out a trait that higlights her strength – or lack thereof – and might give the reader the impression that the story favors males. He writes “her forehead was moist with sweat” (7), which could have the reader thinking that the text aims to point out the weakness of women. Mishima, however, parallels this description when he points out a flaw of Shinji’s and an advantage of Hatsue’s. He writes of “the healthy color of her skin”, right after describing how Shinji’s skin “can be burned no darker by the sun than his was burned” (6-7). The structure of these descriptions make it simple for one to see that the novel is not geared towards any one gender. Mishima is honest in terms of point out how the two lovers level up to each other, and the descriptions set the stage for the maturing of the characters that is set to occur later on in the novel. Once again, the syntax supports the honest tone that Mishima maintains throughout the work, and let the reader know that the story is about growing up – not disliking women.

The third and final literary element that is used to support the coming-of-age theme is characterization. At the start of the novel, Shinji had no real ambitions. He had “become a fisherman as soon as he had finished school”, and his only life goal was to own a fishing boat with his brother (9). But when he meets Hatsue, this all changes. He still loves fishing, of course, but he starts rebelling against his routine. Whereas at the start of the novel, Shinji is simply a helper on the boat, he finishes the story by saving the boat from a monsoon when he sacrificially ventures into a storm. But this journey to strength and maturity is not to suggest that Shinji has become more powerful than Hatsue. The girl also experiences a similar journey. She goes from doing exactly what her father and society tell her to do, to surprising her community when she wins the pearl-diving contest and hands over her prize to the runner-up. The character development continues to contribute to the idea that Mishima does not aim to tell the story with a discriminatory tone; he simply wants to tell the story of two teenagers exiting youth and entering adulthood.

All in all, through the use of imagery to highlight teenage emotion, the utilization of syntax to equally assess the genders, and the employment of effective characterization to show the protagonists’ journeys towards maturity, Mishima’s sincere tone makes it clear to see that he did not intend to suppress female characters in any way. While it is true that the discussion of breasts is common and the male dominance is slightly stronger than that of the females, Mishima did not mean to offend anyone. He simply wanted to tell a story.

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