Around a year ago, I had received a translated copy of “The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea” by Yukio Mishima. To me it looked like a mere sob story, but the outline of the novella was surprisingly linked to a modern issue which remains overlooked. Filled with emotional violence and characters with distraught personalities, the finality of the storyline can only be described as a “dystopian utopia” where dread meets perfection in a starkly distinct novella that; to a certain extent relegates human morale and creates an ambivalent atmosphere for the reader.
Mishima wonderfully captures the torrid and assertive mindset of the protagonist, a 13 year old middle-schooler named Noburu Kuroda. The premise of the tale is set in a globalizing Yokohama in the early 1950’s. It is a culture that is slowly accepting the fancies of the western world while also safeguarding their own conservative traditions and values. The plot of this narrative begins with Noboru and his search for “conventional morality” while also dealing with the intrigue of the world around him.
Growing up as a fatherless child never seemed to place any distinct hold over Noboru, but that changes when he is forced to accept his widowed mother’s new lover; he fails to understand an adult’s search for passionate and unconditional love. He is however disturbed by the adult psyche and the ethical values they hold. This thought process was predisposed upon him by his set of friends, a classroom clique, to which he narrates his plight. They enforce immoral notions after coercing Noboru to believe unrestrictedly, that their belief system is just and accurate. He is left to gain understanding from what he’s told and to chart down his own impressions of the events that manifest around him.
As an adolescent with feelings (he is incapable of comprehending) he finds himself in various standpoints where he questions his ethics and values only to leave him in a convoluted state; consequently rendering him in a state of enacting his violent motives. Throughout the story we witness angst and ferocity creep into his psyche, which left me (as a reader) disturbed. When in retrospect, we realize this “unusual behavior” was because of his position as the acquiescent end to all the antics and upheavals he was subjected to. But these emotional imbalances are not the fruit of his work alone. Albeit the plot pursues a different path and provides a different conclusion, we cannot ignore the transformation that occurs in Noboru as a young teenager who is a part of a dysfunctional family and also a member of a gang of boys much like him displaying signs of toxic masculinity and coercion.
This concept still holds social relevance, which isn’t surprising. Many adolescents face social and mental malaise, being a part of such close-knit circles who instead of providing positive interactions, they display passive aggressiveness, ignorance and negative attitudes accompanied by intentional misapprehension. The distress and unease felt by these individuals are beyond any doubt affecting their personal lives, and much like Erik Erikson put in his psychosocial theory; it extends to their professional and adult lives.
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away leaving you disconnected and numb from the world around you. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma in some form, even if it doesn’t involve assault or bodily harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event(Robinson. L, 2020). While coping with the trauma of a natural or manmade disaster can present a unique challenge; even if you weren’t directly involved in the event, viewing the devastation as a third party can prove traumatic for some.
In India, when we look at the number of cases on examination, in terms of domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental abuse and negligence, it is very evident that the figure has increased in recent times. The premise of some cases may seem erratic and most of these scenarios lead to social aggression against the victim i.e., victim blaming, (which largely occurs against women). This vicious outlook of aggression and contempt pulverizes the positive regard towards one’s future and may lead to the downfall of others.
Which brings us to the main idea of this article. What is the influential aspect that prevents a traumatized individual to attain his/her innate desires? The answer lies within the social environment that contains the victim’s life and livelihood. It can delve in both personal and professional aspects but in all cases, it does create some form of imagery in the sufferer’s mind that restricts them from making those distinct choices for personal growth. It is all relatively phrased as though the past were blackmailing your present to prevent your future.
As an Indian teenager I was brought up in a household that didn’t push me into moving towards the indubitable future goals that most Indians; teenagers especially, are taught to idolize and glorify. I was always thankful to my family for bringing me up in such a manner but what about the majority of India’s youth? Was there no freedom call for its own? It might seem unclear where we’re going with this but to clarify things for you, the majority of middle-class Indian adolescents these days are taught to comprehend things in a morally marginalized manner. It seems as though society had fixed a blueprint for how you were supposed to function and the blueprint varied with your gender, age, occupation, caste, religion and even skin tone.
This same society deems an adolescent valuable depending on his/her vocation, university and idiosyncratic educational standard. It’s not any different from getting interrogated to know whether you scored better than the neighbor’s son/daughter, and the look of delight on that family member’s face might mean extra time on the phone for you, but that schoolmate next door is staring right into the devil’s eyes. Breaking out of these barriers seems like kicking a dead dog to most, and its terrifying to know that no matter how hard you push them, society doesn’t budge until a collective resolution is welcomed and followed, and it’s not surprising that we haven’t seen a day like that yet.
Often, today’s youth in India have the gift of proactively identifying right from wrong in a moral or (for a lack of a better word) ethical sentiment, but where does that put them? When chaos ensues in events as simple as talking to the opposite sex, how does one escape this fragile scenario? In a society where losing a few marks stands as a major cause for concern, is it any doubt that mental health is taken for granted? The previous generations lived in a time where acceptance and mental comprehension were considered tertiary or even disregarded as a whole. People were either told to maintain their societal stance so as to be valued, instead of focusing on themselves and their personal drawbacks.
Numerous Indian adolescents today are subjected to a colossal number of mentally and physically traumatizing events. Indian newspapers are riddled with cases of rape and love-jihad. Toxic masculinity is not only glorified but encouraged in the most unequivocal daily events anywhere between home and workplace. Religious and casteist propaganda is heavily enforced to exhibit megalomania in the political sphere and this itself stirs an insane amount of conflict that it is almost treated as a cultural norm to have such resenting feelings to either community. In the midst of this, India’s youth is caught up like a bug on a windshield.
To be a part of India’s youth culture and to say these political or societal dogmas have no effect on you or to even acknowledge that they don’t manifest in any of your personal/professional circles is to either be evasively privileged or just plain ignorant. It takes a lot to stand up for what you distinctively believe in especially when it’s against societal norms, and as long as the human morale thrives, it would be undeniably triumphing to live and love in your own beliefs, something an average Indian teenager is afraid to conquer. Be your own sovereign and defend your own predilections, because when push comes to shove; you’re the master of your own sea.
“Glory as we know is bitter stuff”. Law student at The University of Adelaide. Nietzsche and Kant remain the sole beholders of existential truth.