Throughout The Sound of Waves, many of the major characters fall prey to gossip and rumor. The rumors that these characters overhear are intriguing and seductive—yet all too often, Mishima’s characters jump to conclusions about the tidbits they hear, hurting feelings, perpetuating lies, and causing damage to their relationships in the process. Ultimately, Mishima suggests that gossip can erode not just relationships but entire communities and rumors should not be taken at face value.
Uta-jima is a small, insular island that is home to hardworking people who enjoy gossiping and spreading rumors about their neighbors. From the fishermen down by the docks to the lighthouse-keeper’s wife, who pries into the emotional and romantic lives of the village girls, everyone on the island is a participant—willing or unwilling—in the island’s economy of gossip. Mishima establishes this dynamic early on by creating two mirrored misunderstandings in the lives of Shinji and Hatsue, the devoted young lovers at the heart of the novel. First, Shinji overhears a rumor that Hatsue is engaged to Yasuo Kawamoto, the brash, haughty, and wealthy leader of the island’s Young Men’s Association. Shinji’s feelings are deeply hurt—so much so that he doesn’t even speak to Hatsue the next time he sees her. It is only after Shinji directly confronts Hatsue about the rumor and she laughs it off as patently false that Shinji is able to feel better and trust in Hatsue once again. Likewise, Hatsue soon overhears a rumor about Chiyoko being interested in Shinji. She mirrors Shinji’s earlier behavior by refusing to speak to him at first, but when she confronts him about the rumor, she learns that it is false. Mishima uses these incidents, which take place early on in the novel, to demonstrate that rumors are often false. When taken at face value, they have the power to erode relationships, even between people who are in love.
Mishima also demonstrates how rumors have the power to destroy entire communities of people. When the lighthouse-keeper’s jealous daughter Chiyoko starts a false rumor that Shinji and Hatsue have had sex before marriage, the reverberations can be felt throughout the entire island of Uta-jima. First, Hatsue’s father, the wealthy and powerful Terukichi Miyata, forbids Hatsue from seeing Shinji and keeps her more or less confined to the house. Second, Shinji and Hatsue both suffer from ruined reputations. Third, the fallout of this rumor intensifies divisions on the island, such as when Shinji’s mother tries to correct the record with Hatsue’s father and he refuses to see her, which cements the bad feelings between them. Perhaps the most horrific example of the pernicious nature of gossip is when Yasuo hears the rumor that Hatsue is no longer a virgin and decides to rape her. While a swarm of hornets prevents Yasuo from inflicting any violence upon Hatsue, the incident is traumatic for her. Yasuo’s behavior also illustrates how people seek to take advantage of the nasty rumors they hear throughout their communities, meting out what they believe to be “justice” to those who they feel are deserving of punishment. Through these incidents, Mishima illustrates how gossip and rumor can ruin a person’s reputation and a community’s cohesion, and can even put people in danger.
Though Shinji and Hatsue are eventually able to prove their innocence and begin building a life together, it is a close call—and they must suffer, together and separately, through harsh judgement and many fractures in their community as they weather the storm that descends upon them. Mishima uses Shinji and Hatsue’s tale of perseverance in the face of defamation and denigration to demonstrate how painful, divisive, and dangerous gossip and rumor can be.
Gossip and Rumor ThemeTracker
Gossip and Rumor Quotes in The Sound of Waves
As they walked along, the girl asked him his name and now, for the first time, he introduced himself. But he went on hurriedly to ask that she not mention his name to anyone or say anything about having met him here: Shinji well knew how sharp the villagers’ tongues could be. Hatsue promised not to tell. Thus their well-founded fear of the village’s love of gossip changed what was but an innocent meeting into a thing of secrecy between the two of them.
“What made you so mad?” Shinji asked, looking her full in the face.
“All that talk about you and Chiyoko-san.”
“Then there’s nothing to it?”
“There’s nothing to it.”
All the time the luminous watch of which Yasuo was so proud, strapped above the hand with which he was holding onto the branch of the beech tree, was giving off its phosphorescent glow, faintly but distinctly ticking away the seconds. This aroused a swarm of hornets in the nest fastened to this same branch and greatly excited their curiosity.
After a moment Yasuo glanced back and saw that Hatsue had come down from the grove without his knowing it and was following along about two yards behind him. She did not so much as smile. When she saw him stop walking, she stopped too, and when he started on down the steps again, she started too.
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.
It might be better to say that Terukichi was the personification of all Uta-jima’s toil and determination and ambition and strength. […] The uncanny accuracy of his weather predictions, his matchless experience in the matters of fishing and navigation, and the great pride he took in knowing all the history and traditions of the island were often offset by his uncompromising stubbornness, his ludicrous pretensions, and his pugnacity…
“It’s all because I'm poor,” Shinji said.
He was usually not one to let such querulous words pass his lips. And he felt tears of shame springing in his eyes, not because he was poor, but because he had been weak enough to give voice to such a complaint.
“That’s really what he said. And that’s enough for me. I mustn’t expect more than that. That’s really what he said to me. I must be satisfied with that and not expect him to love me too. He—he has someone else to love. . . . What a wicked thing it was I did to him! What terrible unhappiness my jealousy has caused him! And yet he repaid my wickedness by saying I’m pretty. I must make it up to him . . . somehow I must do whatever I can to return his kindness. . . .”
Shinji’s mother hesitated a moment as she was about to enter the house. Just the fact that she had come calling at the Miyata house, where she was not on intimate terms, would be enough to set the villagers’ tongues to wagging.
“When Shinji did that great thing at Okinawa—well, I changed my mind too and decided he was the one for my girl. The only thing that really counts . . .”
Here Terukichi raised his voice emphatically.
“The only thing that really counts in a man is his get-up-and-go. If he’s got get-up-and-go he’s a real man, and those are the kind of men we need here on Uta-jima.”
Out in front of them stretched the unfathomable darkness, where the beam from the lighthouse was making its vast, regular sweeps. […] Shinji […] was lost in thought. He was thinking that in spite of all they’d been through, here they were in the end, free within the moral code to which they had been born, never once having been estranged from the providence of the gods . . . that, in short, it was this little island, enfolded in darkness, that had protected their happiness and brought their love to this fulfillment.. . .