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Yukio Mishima: The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea






Both The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea and The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, written by Yukio Mishima and Heinrich Boll respectively, deal with the difficulties in human communication. Specifically, both books portray communication as guesswork, where the character's thoughts do not match how they act. Both books portray this through style featuring an omniscient narrator delving into the thoughts of characters. Mishima uses narrative by switching between third-person and first-person narratives, with large contrasts in the use of language between the two. Boll, on the other hand, features a narrator who attempts to create a factual, objective report, but fails due to bias, subjective language and irony. Both books also tie this idea to specific characters; namely, Ryuji in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with Sea and Katharina Blum in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. However, the idea relates differently to each character. Ryuji shows the difference from the person who is communicating, by contrasting what he says and what he thinks. Blum, however, shows the difference from the perspective of the person receiving the communication, who fails to realize the motives behind how others treat her, and what they actually say.


The Sailor Who fell From Grace With The Sea features an omniscient narrator, who is able to delve into the thoughts of its characters. The character that perhaps shows the sharpest contrast between his thoughts and speech is the sailor Ryuji. Mishima portrays the constant internal conflict between Ryuji's idea of glory and the love he feels for Fusako, by leaving the third-person narrative found throughout most of the book, to a first-person narrative, set inside Ryuji's mind. No part of Ryuji's actual speech and dialogue actually shows this internal conflict, and thus none of the other characters have any idea of what is happening within Ryuji's mind.


One example of this is on page 38, when Fusako first meets Ryuji, and she asks him why he had never married. Ryuji's answer, given in third person is “It's not easy to find a woman who is willing to be a sailor's wife”. However, Mishima then writes the thoughts of Ryuji, which explain how he sees the married officers as having “thrown opportunity away...” Mishima then portrays Ryuji's idea of glory to the reader, as a “limpid lonely horn...a turgid cloud laced with light...and the poignant voice of glory will call for me from the distance...”. Ryuji's internal monologue covers an entire paragraph, and dwarfs the spoken answer in both length and detail. When contrasting the style of the two 'answers', the second, which is only thought, is filled with imagery and figurative language, such as the light imagery seen in the above quote. However, none of this is seen in Ryuji's spoken answer. Through this contrast, Mishima is possibly showing the complexity of human thought and how it thus difficult to get an accurate representation of what one actually thinks and believes.


This contrast is seen again in the second half of the book, just before Ryuji proposes to Fusako. Mishima once again shows a contrast between what Ryuji says, and what he thinks. Ryuji asks Fusako “Are you feeling cold?”, which Mishima then extends into another long internal monologue, where Ryuji asks himself “Are you really going to give it up? The feeling of the sea, the dark drunken felling that unearthly rolling always brings...are you going to give up that luminous freedom?”. Once again, Mishima has created a contrast between what Ryuji says, and what he actually thinks. The spoken answer is brief, short and direct (and actually unrelated to what Ryuji is actually thinking), while the character's thoughts are long, eloquent and filled with imagery, such as the image of the rolling sea, or of a “luminous freedom”. Mishima, though this contrast, is once again saying that a person's thoughts may be far too complex to express through spoken communication.


The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum also shows the difference between what a person thinks and how they actually act and feel, but from a different perspective. Katharina Blum, the titular character of the book, does not seem to realize what other characters think about her solely from how they act towards her, or through what they say. Boll's narrative also plays a role in portraying this idea. The 'narrator' of the book attempts to portray the events as factually and as objectively as possible, but even tells the reader not to believe everything that he writes. The narrator also fails to portray the events of the book objectively, as the narrator succumbs to bias, irony and the use of subjective language. Finally, the narrator appears to vaguely omniscient, as he knows the thoughts, feelings and motives of many of the characters. This combines to create a very fluid idea of 'truth' that is seen throughout the entire book, as everyone – the reader, the narrator and the characters - all question the truth behind the events of the novel.


Throughout Boll's novel, Katharina Blum fails to understand and recognize the motives behind those that try to help her. Perhaps the best example is Hubert Blorna, her employer and lawyer in the novel. Throughout the novel, Katharina Blum is under the impression that her employer is helping her though this ordeal out of pure kindness, with no ulterior motives. However, at the end of the novel, the narrator reveals with great relish to the reader (but not to Katharina) that “he loves her”. It appears, however, that Blum has no clue that this is true. Another character that Boll portrays as having a hidden motive towards Katharina (albeit one that she somewhat recognizes) is Alois Straubleder, the wealthy industrialist. He, like Blorna, is also in love with Katharina, and has made it clear at many points. However, Blum doesn't realize the extent that he was willing to go, especially involving the ring he sent her, as the narrator notes “Could she ever have known that jackass would spend all that money for the sake of his vanity?”. She also doesn't realize the fragility of Straubleder's feelings, as he quickly abandons her to the News as his reputation looks more and more threatened. In both cases, Blum has failed to recognize the thoughts and motives of those that 'help' her based solely on how they act and what they say.


Boll's narrative plays a role in portraying this idea on human communication. The narrator attempts to create an entire objective factual report, but fails due to his use of irony, subjective language and bias. The narrative creates a fluid idea of truth, which affects the reader's perception of events in the novel, including the actions of individual characters. Thus, in many respects, the reader is in the same position as Katharina Blum – we are unable to recognize the motives behind a character's actions unless we are told straight out by the narrative. The narrator (and thus the author) directly references this inability to understand at different points throughout the novel, such as on page 51, where he writes “The gentle smile with which Beizemann absorbed the explanation this explanation without comment gave no hint as to what was going on in his mind”, and also on page 102, with “...for most people, being denied reliable telepathic communication, reach for the phone, which they feel is more reliable.”. Both of these quotes show that the narrator acknowledges that it is difficult to understand what someone is actually thinking based solely on their actions, which links into this overall theme of human communication.


Both The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea portray the idea that human communication is a fallacy – that one can never truly understand the motives and thoughts of another based solely on what they say and how the act. Mishima portrays this though the character Ryuji, and contrasting a bland spoken answer to a question given in a third-person narrative to an expressive, emotive thought 'answer' shown through a first-person narrative. Boll, on the other hand, shows how Katharina Blum, the person receiving the communication, is unable to recognize other's thoughts and motives based on actions, reinforced by a narrative that creates a very fluid idea of truth. Therefore, through the use of different styles of narrative, Mishima and Boll have made a statement on human communication – it is difficult, if not impossible to accurately know another's thoughts and feelings based solely on how they act, and what they say.