In Yukio Mishima’s “Swaddling Clothes” we see a great deal of symbolism portraying the corruption of the Japanese culture. The times are changing and with that change, culture is adapting to it. Some of the Japanese feel threatened and that the changes that are being made are corrupting their moral values. The story is told through Toshiko, a lonely and seemingly oppressed wife and mother. She shows how this corruption is leading to decay. The story depicts the corruption of Japanese culture by western modernization.
Japanese culture is becoming more westernized, “unhomely with its Western-style furniture…” (366). The air of the room being unhomely because some Japanese thought that Western-style was corrupt. Toshiko’s husband is accepting these changes, “sitting there in his American-style suit, puffing at a cigarette” (366). The city they live in is changing as well, “dotted with bars and then by a theatre” (368). The park that Toshiko visits had also changed, “The paper lanterns that hung from wires between the trees had been put out; in their place electric light bulbs…that shone dully beneath the blossoms” (369). The word dully being used to show that western-style is dull and dreary. Violence is one of the concepts Toshiko relates to western culture.
Toshiko believes western style is violent, “his frail body was wrapped in bloodstained newspapers” (367), showing the degradation of moral values in this westernized society. When Toshiko’s husband is sitting there talking with his friends he jokes about the incident and stating “I rescued our good rug… (367), this showing that his mind is corrupt with the western culture because he did not care about the well being of the nurse and the blood did not faze him. The baby is a symbol of the violence in the western culture as well. The way the baby was born was out of wedlock, “Even if that baby should grow up in ignorance of the secret of his birth, he can never become a respectable citizen” (368). Toshiko worries that the baby “who has been sinned against” (368) may come in contact with her son one day and, “savagely stab him with a knife…” (368). All because the baby was born out of wedlock, due to Western modernization, Toshiko thinks of him as violent and evil. Western culture is not only seen as violent but as polluted as well.
Western-style is also polluting their society. While walking in the park Toshiko notices that the people “would automatically kick aside the empty bottles or crush the waste paper beneath their feet” (369). Waste pollution not only being the kind of pollution polluting their society but moral pollution as well. Toshiko sees a homeless man and wonders “was it one of those miserable drunks often to be seen sleeping in public places?” (369). The homeless man in the park is a symbol of the baby that will grow up to be in crime and poverty, though what is most significant is the way that he is dressed, “his khaki trousers had been slightly pulled up” (370), this showing that he is westernized just like Toshiko’s husband. Toshiko is saddened by this westernized lifestyle.
This story shows through many elements the degradation of moral values in the modern westernized changes that are taking place. Through the moral changes, the violence of the western culture, and the pollution we have seen that Toshiko believes that her society is corrupt. There are many symbols showing these changes; through the baby, Toshiko’s husband, and through the homeless. She continually contemplates the loss of their moral values and is saddened. Ultimately this story is trying to depict the corruption of Japanese culture by western modernization.