Gender Roles In The Sound Of Waves

The Sound of Waves is Yukio Mishimoto’s twentieth-century classic novel. At first, there might be misconceptions about the story’s message. It is simple enough to quickly spot some seemingly-sexist elements. Then, one can immediately conclude that Mishima was misogynist. It is easy for this judgment to be made due to the constant objectifications and inferior roles played by women in domestic life, as well the patriarchal dominance of the novel. However, it becomes clear that the novel’s goal is to not highlight sexism. Mishima uses imagery and syntax to communicate his sincere feelings.

Visual imagery is the first element of literature and perhaps the easiest for the reader. The Sound of Waves includes both literal and common references to nature. The story opens with a picture that depicts serenity. Mishima describes the “surpassingly gorgeous views” from Uta-Jima’s cliffs and “calm waters” (Mishima 4, Mishima). The descriptions are beautiful and symbolic of Shinji and Hatsue being young and innocent before they became adults. It is possible that the narrative will have its downfall, as the narration takes place from the cliffs’ perspective. This is similar in many ways to the ups/downs of growing up. These descriptive photos show the natural surroundings surrounding the teenagers, illustrating the emotional rollercoaster of maturation. Shinij meets Hatsue in secret and the storm outside reflects the feelings of excitement and nerves. The ground “swell[s]”, and the beach “roars with incoming wave,” can be interpreted as Hatsue and Shinji feeling their emotions. Mishima’s sincerity is reinforced by the imagery. The reader can imagine that Hatsue’s and Shinji’s emotions are swelling and roaring just like the storm (64). Mishima’s description of Hatsue and Shinji’s first encounter is at the beginning. This is Mishima’s opportunity to tell the reader about the physical appearances and personalities of both protagonists. It is obvious that Mishima uses parallel structure to give both characters an honest and equal assessment. He isn’t pointing to Shinji’s flaws anymore than he’s pointing to the female’s. The first is a detailed description of Shinji. Mishima wrote, “He was taller and more robust than his years” (6. Mishima mentions Hatsue’s strength in describing her shortly after. His description of Hatsue’s forehead as “wet with sweat”(7) could lead readers to believe that the text is highlighting the weaknesses of women. Mishima is more specific than this description. He points to a flaw in Shinji and highlights an advantage Hatsue has. After describing Shinji’s skin as “healthy”, he writes about “her skin’s healthy color” (6-7). These descriptions are structured so that it is easy to understand that the novel does not target any particular gender. Mishima is sincere in her description of how the lovers relate to one another. Also, the descriptions set the stage to the maturing of characters later in the novel. The syntax reinforces the honesty Mishima portrays throughout the book.

Characterization is the third element of literature that supports the theme of coming to terms. Shinji didn’t have any real goals when he started the novel. He “became fisherman as soon after he was done with school”, and his only ambition in life was to have a fishing vessel of his own (9). He meets Hatsue and all of this changes. He is still passionate about fishing, but he rebels against the routine. Shinji, who was just a helper at the boat’s start, is now a hero, saving the boat from a monsoon by risking his life in order to rescue it. This journey to strength, maturity and power does not mean Shinji is stronger than Hatsue. Similar experiences are also experienced by the girl. She changes from following the advice of her father and society to winning the pearl-diving competition and surprising her community by doing so. Mishima doesn’t want to tell the story in a sexist tone. Instead, he wants to show the story of two teenagers who enter adulthood after leaving their youth.

Overall, Mishima’s genuine tone is clear. He used imagery to emphasize teenage emotion and syntax to equally evaluate the genders. Mishima wasn’t trying to offend anyone. It is true that there is a lot of discussion about breasts and that male dominance tends to be slightly stronger than females. He wanted to tell his story.


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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