The Sailor who fell from grace with the sea. “What does the novel teach us about loneliness?”
Loneliness is a condition of human life, an experience of being human. Everyone feels loneliness at one or more points of his or her life. In the novel “The sailor who fell from grace with the sea”, almost all the character portrays traces of isolation, solitude and loneliness: Noboru, Fusako, Ryuji, “the leader” and the group of Noboro’s friends.
Noboru is most definitely lonely, not that he is physically in solitude. However, his loneliness comes from his heart: his inability to find security in his life, his struggles with being” strong and masculine”, as in his description about himself: “He never cried, not even in his dreams, for hard-heartedness was a point of pride. A large iron anchor withstanding the corrosion of the sea and scornful of the barnacles and oysters that harass the hulls of ships, sinking polished and indifferent through heaps of broken glass, toothless combs, bottle caps, and prophylactics into the mud at the harbor bottom — that was how he liked to imagine his heart. Someday he would have an anchor tattooed on his chest” and at the same time being a child who longs more love from his mother have all attributed to him alienating himself from adults.
First, he lacks a masculine figure guiding him in his childhood, as his father passed away when he was just 8. In the book, Noboru had an obsession for everything “mechanical”, “related to the sea” and he knew everything about ships and the sea. This shows that he struggles to embrace manliness and masculinity by first liking what man likes. At first, he admires Ryuji greatly for he believes that Ryuji is a cool, manly sailor. However, Noboru grew up with his mother, the only person he could rely on. Despite wanting to rebel and become more like an independent “real man”, Ryuji in facts fell extremely attached to his mother and may even suffer from Oedipus complex.
He longs to go to his mothers room despite his mother warning him not to: “It’s time you stop coming into mother’s room so often with that excuse about wanting to watch the ships; you’re not a child anymore”. He peeks at his mother at night when she has scolded him because he is afraid of his mother distancing him , therefore he feels compelled to watch her at night, not just out of revenge, but love and attachment as well. When Fusako fell in love with Ryuji, Noboru felt threathened somehow, that was the reason he wrote the charges against Ryuji. Despite his inner will to attach to his mother, he has grown up. To relieve his loneliness, he makes friends with “the leader” and his group of friends, where he accepted “teaching” of the leader regarding issues, which altered his impression of adults and the world. He would not accept adults treating him kindly like how an adult treats a normal 13 year old. He regards that kind of interaction as hypocrisy. For example his encounter with Ryuji in the park, he considered Ryuji’s friendly smile as “cowardly and ingratiating”.
All these thoughts of his stems from his insecurity and loneliness, because he is lost and directionless, thus he turns defensive and seeks all ways to makes himself “stronger” and “braver”. For example the killing of the kitten, Noboru was afraid at first, however to “make a real man of himself”, he chose to kill. After the incident, his thoughts were “I killed it by myself…I can do anything, no matter how awful”. This gave him Dutch courage, not by wine, but the act of killing, the act of taking away someone’s life. Which reminds me of Japanese Soldiers in the world war 2, where they trained new soldiers at war by letting them practice killing people to give them courage. Perhaps, this is a part of Boshido, the art of warrior of Japan. Nevertheless, Noboru was a very lonely child.
Another character that fascinates me is the leader. He gathers a group of classmates the age of 13 and teaches them anti-social and destructive values. He is extremely cynical and negative. Despite his young age, he forms strong, nagative perspectives of the world and of adults, such as ” murder would fill those gaping caves in much the same way that a crack along its face will fill a mirror…achieve real power over existence.””genitals were for copulating stars in the milky way. Their pubic hair, indigo roots buried deep beneath white skin and a few strands already strong and thickening, would grow out in order to tickle coy stardust when the rape occurred”.”Real danger is nothing more than just living” . From the leader’s deeply philosophical notions about life, we can see that he is a very intelligent child, he proclaims himself as a genius and excels in school.
He seems like a popular child with friends, comes from a rich family and gets good results, but in fact he is very lonely and lacks love and attention from his parents. He holds hatred for his father, as he once said “A father is a reality concealing machine, a machine for dishing up lies to kids, and that isn’t even the worst of it; secretly he believes that he represents reality. Fathers are the flies of the world…”His parents are busy with work and cared little for him, therefore to relieve his loneliness, both physical isolation and inner loneliness, he gathers his group of friends, who more or less suffer from the same plight as him. As he is very unhappy of his predicament, he forms a “cult group”, a mini society where he takes control, and whatever he says is right. In this mini-society, he can make judgments, decisions and would be able to set his rules that generally defied societal norms.
Fusako and Ryuji are somewhat similar, therefore they feel a connection between themselves. They were both lonely, together they could satiate each other’s loneliness and become one whole. Both of them are lonely because they lost people who were dear to their hearts: Fusako’s husband had passed away for 5 years; Ryuji lost his parents and sister before he became a sailor. Both of them do not have friends as well: Fusako dedicated herself wholeheartedly into work and taking care of Noboru after her husband’s death; Ryuji did not forge friendship with anyone else on the ships he was in and was considered unsociable and eccentric. He preferred to listening songs in his own room to gabbing with other sailors. Therefore, they felt a connection and fell in love on first sight. Indeed they completed each other, falling in love like two teenagers falling in love the first time: watching the sun rise together, walk in the park…
Overall, the characters in the book all experience loneliness, in various degrees and for different reasons. However a characteristic in common is that they try to relieved their loneliness with various methods, resulting in different outcomes. Fusako and Ryuji have chosen to end their loneliness by falling in love.” The leader” and Noboru have chosen to turn their loneliness to hatred and seek for strength using murder. Who said that “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop”? Perhaps in this novel, it should be ” a lonely mind is a devil’s workshop”.