In this essay I will analyze the suicides of Shinji and Reiko. They are the main characters in Yukio Mishima’s "Patriotism". Both of their deaths are heroic acts, but I intend to show that Reiko’s suicide was more heroic. To do this, the definition of a hero must be addressed. Then I will show that each character’s conflict defines how heroic their respective suicides were.
A hero is someone who takes action for the benefit of someone else. An act that benefits few people is more heroic then one benefiting many people. When a hero helps few people, less good will is to be gained from the act. The act must also have possible detrimental consequences. More detrimental consequences make the act a more heroic one. Here is a good example. The soldier who charges a machine gun to save fifty fellow soldiers is a hero. The action benefited the other soldiers. Their lives were saved. The personal consequences for the soldier who charged the machine gun are ominous. The action puts his life in serious danger. Is the charging soldier’s action more heroic if death is the consequence? Yes, if the soldier dies the consequences to the soldier are greater then if he lives. Now consider if that solider charged the machine gun to save two, instead of fifty, fellow soldiers. Is this sacrifice greater when two are saved over fifty? Yes, because less good will is to be gained from saving two people then fifty. This is how a hero is defined.
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Can a suicide be considered heroic? Yes, using the above definition. If the suicide will benefit someone the act is most certainly heroic. With suicide, the consequence to the hero is death. In “Patriotism” both Reiko and Shinji’s actions meet the definition of heroic. When we analyze each characters conflict we see that their suicides benefited others and were committed at great consequence.
Shinji’s conflict stemmed from the mutiny. Many of the soldiers who mutinied were his friends. He could not rebel so he has orders to attack his friends. Shinji refused to fight his friends so his suicide resolves the conflict between his loyalties. His action is heroic because people benefit from his death. His friends do not have to fight Shinji, which would lower their resolve. In addition, his death means one less soldier for them to fight. The suicide is committed at great expense to Shinji. He gives up a life filled with joy and a beautiful wife.
Reiko kills herself because Shinji is. This is her conflict. Reiko’s suicide is committed for the sole benefit of her husband. Only her loyalty makes her commit the act. From the beginning of their marriage she knew that this day might come. On their wedding day Reiko received a “soldierly lecture” on the responsibilities of being a soldier’s wife. Death could come at any moment for a soldier and she needed to be steadfast in her resolve to accept it. She produced a dagger, and in a symbolic gesture to her husband, said she would die when he did. Will she commit suicide solely out of commitment for her husband, for his benefit? She does at great expense to herself.
Reiko’s act is more heroic then Shinji’s because the consequences of her suicide are greater. Through her resolve, she gains the pleasure of watching her husband commit suicide. This must have been a terrifying process to watch. Her husband’s death was a gruesome ordeal. His method of suicide is self torture then suicide. He cut his stomach and intestines out. Which will not kill a person, death will take many minutes this way. Then tried to stab him-self in the neck, but couldn’t penetrate it without Reiko’s help. Here is an excerpt from the passage, “The volume of blood had steadily increased, and now it spurted from the wound as if propelled by the beat of the pulse. The mat before the lieutenant was drenched red with splattered blood… the entrails burst through, as if the wound was vomiting… as they slipped smoothly out and spilled over into the crotch.” To watch this is a major loss for Reiko.
She loses her life for much less good will opportunity then Shinji. Shinji is benefiting more then one person with his suicide. He benefits the soldiers who committed mutiny, his country, and him-self. Shinji is the only person Reiko wants to benefit and the only person to return good will. Solely out of her commitment, she kills her self, a selfless act. Using the above definition, her suicide is the more heroic one.
Reiko’s promise of suicide gave Shinji the strength to commit his heroic act. “The lieutenant felt almost mesmerized by the strength in those eyes.” Thus, Reiko’s act gave Shinji the strength to commit his suicide. This is true because he did not question his wife’s resolve. “The lieutenant was confident there had been no impunity in that joy they had experienced when resolving upon death. They both had sensed at that moment that those permissible pleasures which they shared in private were once more beneath the protection of Righteousness and Divine Power, and of a complete and unassailable morality. On looking into each other’s eyes and discovering there an honorable death, they had felt themselves safe once more behind steal walls which no one could destroy, encased in an impenetrable armor of Beauty and Truth. Thus, so far from any inconsistency or conflict between the urges of his flesh and the sincerity of his patriotism, the lieutenant was even able to regard the two parts of the same thing.” The described by the quote was the strength of their relationship. The unity provided the confidence and strength to commit suicide. Reiko’s resolve and commitment to Shinji made this unity possible, making her act the more heroic one.
"Patriotism" is a tragic story. The opening paragraph has a fitting description, "The last moments of this heroic and dedicated couple were such as to make the gods themselves weep."
Each committed the ultimate sacrifice, trading their lives for the benefit of others; Shinji for his country and fellow soldiers, Reiko solely out of love and commitment to her husband. Her selfless act gave her husband the strength to commit his heroic suicide. She did this with tremendous courage and resolve which earns her the title of most heroic.
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