Although the code of the samurai and the ritual suicide of individuals that have dishonored themselves and their families is not something that is expected or seen in great numbers in that country today, the idea of upholding one's honor is still very important.
Japanese people overall tend to be quiet and soft-spoken people and they do not like to disagree with one another. If they must disagree, they find polite ways to do so and they often use many honorific titles based on who they are speaking to in order to ensure that what they say is polite and appropriate (Lebra, 312). They may use different titles for one another based on where they are and before they speak they generally look to determine whether the conversation that they are about to engage in is appropriate, and whether the subject matter is acceptable. If they do not feel they have anything to contribute they are generally silent. This is especially true of women, and even though the large cities in Japan such as Tokyo are much more westernized than they used to be, the more rural areas of the country still find many women in kimonos and men that feel the women are there to please them (Lebra, 312).
This does not necessarily mean that the women in Japan are treated poorly, and this was evidenced in the story as the husband was very kind to his wife and very respectful of her feelings. Still, however, she did what she was told to do and what she was asked to do by her husband and did not argue or complain, even if she did not agree. The reader would likely find it very startling that she did not argue about her husband choosing to take his own life and that she did not attempt to shy away from taking her own life as well. Her husband did not ask her to do this, and she requested that she be allowed to join him in this particular act. He was very touched and moved by her asking to do this, but the reader does not get the impression that the husband would have requested this of the wife had she not offered. He did make a speech when they got married about the duties that a wife should have to her husband, but he did not specifically discuss whether she should or should not take her own life if he died (Mishima, 460).
Throughout the story there are many little instances of the wife's preparations to do this, however, as evidenced by the small trinkets that she addresses to individuals so that they will be given to them when she is gone (Mishima, 462). It becomes clear to her husband that she has already made preparations for her death and is not afraid to join him when he chooses to take his own life. The imagery that Mishima uses in this story is extremely powerful. This is especially true of the death scene as it discusses the extent of the blood that leaves the husband's body and the entrails that fall from his stomach into his lap (Mishima, 473). While not a pleasant image, it clearly gets the point across of what the husband was doing to his body and the honor that he felt in being able to get through this and actually allow it to happen. Had he changed his mind before doing this, or had he "chickened out," his dishonor would have been much greater.
The same is true of the wife, as she saw her husband in great pain and saw what he went through when he cut into his stomach in this way. It is somewhat surprising to the reader that she does not change her mind and decide not to end her life because of the fear, pain, and blood that she witnessed. However, she does not feel frightened but instead feels that this was an experience that her husband was involved in and she wishes to share it with him (Mishima, 473). The symbolism that Mishima uses in this is so strong that it makes the reader realize the commitment that these two people have to one another. There is very little symbolism that could be utilized, other than death, that would show how committed the man was to his country and how committed the wife was to her husband.
Both characters are very realistic in the sense of what their culture was like at that time and therefore, even though it seems somewhat strange to Westerners in today's society, the strong beliefs that these individuals have can easily be seen. The author also uses some stylistic techniques to help show exactly what he is trying to say in the story. The main technique he uses, however, and the thing that is most striking about the story, is a strong descriptive element. Not only is Mishima very descriptive about the death of the man and less descriptive about the death of the woman, which would go along with the idea of Japanese society at that time that the man was dominant and more important, but Mishima is very descriptive about simple little things such as the way the wife chooses to address trinkets to others in preparation for her own death. It is clear that many preparations have been made by both the husband and the wife, and these preparations on the part of the other please both of these individuals very much.
From a Western context, the story is somewhat difficult to understand, but this does not belittle its merits or the high quality of writing that Mishima has. Taken in the proper context of the culture where this takes place and the historical background of the time, the story is a very strong testament to nationalism and patriotism. The traditions that the author discusses help to show this nationalism to a very strong degree and also to show that it not only belongs to men that are soldiers for the country but to the families of those men and to others that believe very strongly in their home country and what must be done for it.
There has also been some literary criticism of Mishima's story, in the sense that the issues of sex and death are so clearly intertwined in what he discusses, based on the night of lovemaking that the husband has with his wife before the seppuku is committed (Hughes, 72). Other criticism of Mishima's story is based on that same principle of violence and how some authors find that the spectacle of war is actually quite beautiful, in a unique way (Jackson, n.p.). Still others that have looked at Mishima's work have seen "Patriotism" as being a way that Mishima expressed his life and what he chose to do when he took his own life at the age of 45 through this same ritual (The Samurai, 2005).
Overall, the death of these two individuals is a small thing but to the soldier and his wife it was the most important thing that they could do. This was not a decision that was made lightly, but it seems more tragic because the soldier was only 31 years old at this time and his wife only 23 (Mishima, 459). They had been married approximately six months and the reader is struck by the sadness and the apparent waste of life that is portrayed. However, once the entire story is read and pondered, it is more easily seen that what these individuals did they both did out of great respect for one another and for their country. This makes it a very significant and important event to both of them. Not only was it the joining of each other in death, but it was also rebellion for what they felt was wrong, patriotism for their country, and what they both truly felt was the right thing to do.
Benedict, R. 1946. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin, 98-117.
Hughes, H.J. 2000. Familiarity of the strange: Japan's gothic tradition. Criticism, 42.1: 59-89.
Jackson, K. 2004. Shock and awe; Colonel Kilgore in 'Apocalypse Now'. Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia. The bombing of Baghdad. Few of us have experienced war first- hand. So why, asks Kevin Jackson, are we addicted to its imagery? The Independent Sunday: London, England.
Lebra T. 1984. Japanese Women, Constraint and Fulfillment. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 295-315.
Mishima, Y. 1986. "Patriotism." The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories. Ed. Daniel Halpern. New York: Penguin Books, 459-475.
Pascale, R. & Athos, A. 1982. The Art of Japanese Management. New York: Warner Books, 27-34.