Point of View
The story is told from the third-person point of view. Everything that happens in the story is filtered through Akio. The reader only learns his thoughts and ideas. Because Akio is so unperceptive and so uninterested in Masako, the reader learns very little about her. The only indications of what she is thinking come through her brief opportunities for dialogue and the few times that Akio describes what she is doing. For instance, in her most important moment, Masako responds to the news (redelivered) that Akio is breaking up with her:’ ‘Really? Did you say that? I didn’t hear you,” she says in a ‘ ‘normal” voice. This moment undercuts all the feelings that Akio has been going through and turns the joke— both of them, in fact: wooing Masako in order to break up with her and making her confront the fountain—on himself.
The fountains are the story’s primary symbols. They are described in sexual terms. The main columns of the fountains, which “shot upward from the center of each basin,” are phallic symbols representing the male genitalia. The basins that surround the fountains, with their “radiating curves” are representative of the female genitalia. Akio’s fascination with the fountains belies his stated indifference to sex. His ambivalence is further revealed to be in sexual orientation as well. He first describes the columns of water but then claims to be ‘ ‘less taken” with them than with the surrounding waters. Watching all the water’s “untiring rushing,” Akio goes into a sexual reverie, ‘ ‘being taken over by the water, carried away on its rushing, cast far away.” That reverie continues when the big central column captures his attention. He sees within the column the water rushing upward. Unlike the male genitalia, however, this phallus experiences a “kind of perpetual replenishment.” Despite this, the column will be “frustrated.” However, the column has something that Akio wants: “unwaning power.”
The story is set in Tokyo, even though the location is not named. By not labeling the city, Mishima shows that this story could take place anywhere, and, indeed, in nearly any culture.
The anonymous setting is also important because it underscores Akio’s isolation in relation to himself and to others. In the tea house, the setting is amid overwhelming noise and bustling activity. The sounds produced inside the tea house—the customers’ voices, the clattering dishes, the cash register— “clashed with each other all the more violently … to create a single, mind-fuddling commotion.” These sounds—and this emotion—reflect Akio’s feelings at the moment. He is overwrought and excited by his ending of the relationship, yet he is not as at ease with his actions as he would like to be. The setting is also important because the noise created in the tea house provides the reason that Masako doesn’t hear Akio’s words. When the pair leave the tea room, the setting changes. Outside, Masako follows Akio “silently”; he himself walks “in silence.” The sidewalks are empty; thus at this moment Akio and Masako exist in complete isolation. When they reach the garden, “not a soul” is around, but “beyond the garden, there was a constant procession of wet truck hoods and bus roofs in red, white, or yellow.” Akio is aware that the world goes on, but at this moment he is not part of it.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Yukio Mishima, Published by Gale Group, 2001.