The Sound of Waves

by

Yukio Mishima

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Pearl Diving Symbol Analysis

Pearl Diving Symbol Icon

Throughout The Sound of Waves, the act of pearl diving symbolizes the beauty within struggle. Just as the women who live on the island of Uta-jima push their bodies to the limit in pursuit of the hard-shelled abalone shellfish that contain beautiful pearls, Mishima suggests that all people must push themselves to often-frightening depths of the soul in order to learn the lessons of nature, love others fully, and subvert the forces of jealousy, gossip, wealth, and class that threaten the fullness of human life. Pearl diving can be seen as a symbol of how difficult and bracing—yet profound and revealing—the work of coming of age, committing to love, and resisting the temptation to give into jealousy, fear, anger, and other base instincts can be. Throughout Shinji’s coming-of-age journey, he finds himself challenged by the socioeconomic environment of his home island when he falls in love with the beautiful and wealthy Hatsue, who is herself a pearl diver, just like Shinji’s own mother. The women’s experiences with the jagged ocean floor and the bitterly cold water have taught them what it means to weather the bad in pursuit of the good—and as Shinji finds himself observing the start of pearl-diving season, he realizes that in order to fully grow up and earn Hatsue’s love and devotion, he  too must search for the small pearls of beauty, happiness, and fulfillment in the midst of tough experiences.

Pearl Diving Quotes in The Sound of Waves

The The Sound of Waves quotes below all refer to the symbol of Pearl Diving. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Lessons from Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Sound of Waves published in 1994.
Chapter 10 Quotes

The mother took a very tolerant view of young people’s amorous affairs. And even during the diving season, when everyone stood about the drying-fire gossiping, she held her tongue. But when it came to its being her own son's affair that was the subject of malicious gossip, then there was a motherly duty that she would have to perform.

Related Symbols: Pearl Diving
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

Hatsue got to her feet in silence and went around the rock to receive her prize. And the prize she returned with was the brown, middle-aged handbag, which she pressed into the hands of Shinji’s mother.

The mother's cheeks flushed red with delight.

“But...why?...”

“Because I’ve always wanted to apologize ever since my father spoke so rudely to Auntie that day.” […]

The mother's simple, straightforward heart had immediately understood the modesty and respect behind the girl’s gesture. Hatsue smiled, and Shinji's mother told herself how wise her son had been in his choice of a bride.

Related Characters: Shinji’s Mother (speaker), Hatsue Miyata (speaker), Shinji Kubo
Related Symbols: Pearl Diving
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Sound of Waves PDF

Pearl Diving Symbol Timeline in The Sound of Waves

The timeline below shows where the symbol Pearl Diving appears in The Sound of Waves. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Love, Sex, and Devotion Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Gossip and Rumor Theme Icon
...returned home, his twelve-year-old brother Hiroshi and his widowed mother, who has worked as a pearl diver since her husband was killed in the final year of World War II, were waiting... (full context)
Love, Sex, and Devotion Theme Icon
Class, Wealth, and Power Theme Icon
Gossip and Rumor Theme Icon
...back to the island. Years ago, Teru had adopted her out to a family of pearl divers on a neighboring island. Now, the lonely widower Teru is planning on adopting a husband... (full context)
Chapter 12
Lessons from Nature Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Gossip and Rumor Theme Icon
As the weather turns warm, Shinji’s mother longs to get back to pearl diving . She is bored of doing housework and she is anxious all the time because... (full context)
Chapter 13
Lessons from Nature Theme Icon
As diving season arrives, the young women who work as pearl divers feel a “heart-strangling” excitement. The pearl-divers of Uta-jima are skillful and competitive—and the dangerous work... (full context)
Lessons from Nature Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
June and July are the busiest months for pearl diving . One sunny midsummer afternoon at the craggy Garden Beach—the most fruitful spot for diving—the... (full context)