Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea Essay
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How does Fusako and Ryuji’s first encounter foreshadow the dynamics of their future relationship?
In Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, first encounters between characters are fundamental in developing their relationship dynamic. When Fusako Kuroda and Noboru are led onto the ship Rakuyo, Ryuji-its second officer in command-is appointed as their guide. Mishima uses dominant diction and invigorating imagery to immediately introduce the romantic nature of their prevailing relationship, and to foreshadow the future sacrifices both characters will have to endure in the name of love.
After both having been deprived of close social interaction for many years, Fusako and Ryuji are at first uncomfortable when dealing with each other’s presence. Initially, Ryuji’s eyes “confronted her”. The attention does not flatter Fusako- instead she feels as though Ryuji is challenging the independence she has worked so hard to develop ever since her husband died. Unable to compose her emotions, Fusako blames the “uncomfortable”(30) moment on Ryuji, for his eyes “had no business piercing that way”(29). Mishima’s diction in the words “ravaging”, “piercing”, “shudder”, “disconcerted”, “oppress” and “probed” continues to highlight the invasive tension of their interaction.
While Fusako struggles to explain her emotional reaction to Ryuji’s presence, it slowly becomes clear to the reader that the tension created is one of excitement, rather than distaste. The attention is overwhelming, but the opportunity for desire, and being desired, overweighs the unnaturalness of the initial confrontation. As she then opens up her parasol “against the sun”(30), she discovers “something unexpected in the shadow of his heavy brow”(30-31). It is as if the oppressive “broad light of day”(31) forces Fusako to maintain a socially accepted persona, and by protecting herself from its scrutiny, she finds comfort in the shade’s non-judgmental darkness.
It is in this freedom that Fusako discerns a deeper emotional understanding in Ryuji’s similarly dark shadows of his brow-perhaps a glisten in his “deep-set”(29) eyes. Mishima builds on this emotional connection with the introduction of chemistry. When standing side-by-side, the “heat of his body in the sultry chart room”(31) becomes almost too much for Fusako to handle-she faints. Mishima uses the imagery of heat to add to the energy of their physical attraction. Although sudden, it is no longer a shock to the reader when Fusako proposes Ryuji join her for dinner the next evening. Although spoken “coolly”(35), these were the words of a “woman stricken with heat”(35) – the heat of the now undeniable attraction.
The emotional development of Fusako’s character during her first encounter with Ryuji is reflected in the extensive imagery of the cargo being hoisted out of the ship’s hold. The hold in which the cargo was kept is a “large, dark fissure in the steel plates of the deck”(34). This cargo has a double entendre since it also symbolizes Fusako’s emotional baggage. In the “large, dark fissure”, the emotionally suppressed Fusako has lived isolated from the world of love, happiness, and opportunity, and held captive by the “steel plates” of society’s expectations. When lifted, the “slats of sunlight slipped nimbly over the crates as they wheeled through the air”(35). This recurring light imagery refers us back to the idea of light revealing the cargo, in the same way Fusako feels scrutinized by the strong sun; light sheds all the imperfections that shadows mask. But, “faster even then the shattered light the cargo sped”(35).
This shows that Fusako, by letting go of the strict independence that has limited her life, is able to dominate over society’s supposition. The light is “shattered” by the strength of Fusako’s true emerging character. Ryuji is the one that has allowed her to take this “terrifyingly deliberate prelude and the sudden, reckless flight”(35). It is as if after years of independently brooding her husband’s death that Fusako finally sees the chance to re-enter the world. Mishima uses the contrast of the organization insinuated in “deliberate prelude” and the carelessness associated with “reckless flight”, to mark the turning point in the development of Fusako’s character.
She feels “load after heavy load of freight being lifted from her and whisked away”(35), releasing her from the emotional stress burdening her freedom. Although liberating Fusako, “the marvel was also an indignity”(35). A disgrace in the sense that it had taken so long for Fusako to admit to her social demise. If she had not experienced the catharsis, she could have accumulated a cargo so large it could have held her down forever. Mishima portrays the scene as an emancipation-saving Fusako from an inevitably empty future. Thus, the encounter with Ryuji presents her with the opportunity to take a risk – a risk of becoming dependent on something other than herself.
Mishima uses sea imagery to insinuate an equally significant affect of the first encounter on Ryuji. Lacking fulfillment from his life at sea, Ryuji sees Fusako as his new ship on the horizon. The life of a sailor is one of solitude, for Ryuji it was one of an empty solitude at that. It is not surprising that his eyes, catching Fusako in their gaze, “sought her out as though she were a tiny spot on the horizon”(29). Deprived of social interaction, sailors constantly search the horizon in hope of sighting another ship – another companion. For Ryuji, Fusako is “a tiny spot” – emotionally distant and out of his reach. But, as if waiting for her to come nearer, his eyes are “focusing so sharply – without leagues of sea between them”(29). The sea was always a protective barrier between Ryuji and offers of stability on land.
Now, without the sea to shield him, Fusako represents everything that he has been denied. He is finally able to focus, and realize what he wants in life – love, companionship, security. Not only does Ryuji reveal a strong interest in Fusako, but he expresses doubt concerning his current lifestyle at sea. He refers to it as a “miserable business”(31) and fails to emit “professional pride”(30). By allowing Fusako to take the role of Ryuji’s “sighted vessel”(29), Mishima is foreshadowing the replacement of Ryuji’s interest in Fusako for his dedication to his ship, and essentially the triumph of Fusako’s presence on land for his lonely existence at sea.
Mishima manages to uncover the complex nature of Fusako and Ryuji’s relationship within just the brief moments of their first encounter. He marks the beginning of a dominant romantic connection that fuels the novel’s plot as both characters continue to make sacrifices-Fusako in surrendering her independence and Ryuji in giving up his dream of achieving glory at sea. However, although portrayed as love throughout the novel, both characters are motivated by a requisite to fill a certain void of affection. The reader is made to wonder whether it was really true love that was discovered at their first encounter, or a mere mutual greed for intimacy.