Many people consider suicide a moral wrong or cowardly in that it is taking the easy way out of a tough situation. And, by our modern standards, that is typically the case. But, in the case of the story, “Patriotism,” written by Yukio Mishima, the suicide Lieutenant Shinji and his wife Reiko committed was the noble and honorable thing. The couple died together in order to preserve their honor and loyalty, which were key in setting of this story.
To truly judge the characters for their heroism, the setting of the story must be understood.
“Patriotism” is set in Japan in 1936, which was the pre-World War II era. Patriotism and loyalty were at an all-time high, which created an atmosphere of duty and determination to serve. With that mindset, both characters were justified to sacrifice themselves for what they believed was the greater good.
The story centers around the ideas of loyalty and the sacrifice required for that loyalty.
Heroism is about sacrificing the self for the greater good. Sometimes that sacrifice is part of a natural sequence of events, and sometimes it is a radical swerve from the path a person is on. Regardless, heroism requires a change to benefit others, often having the potential to harm the hero. A hero must decide that others are to be placed before themselves; they acknowledge that their very being is meant to aid the millions around them. In addition, heroes have a cause to fight for. The cause can be world impacting, or as simple as affecting one person. Whatever the cause is, a hero must dedicate themselves fully to what they believe.
Heroes are in pursuit of perfection, but acknowledge their shortcomings as an obstacle to work around in order to help others. Heroes willingly accept their duty and don’t resent the sacrifices their decisions often require. Heroes are humble in their actions and don’t expect anything in return for their attempts to improve the lives of others. As Brodi Ashton, author of Everneath, puts it, “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” Reiko follows that path of heroism, which for her, ends with the greatest sacrifice a man can give- their life.
In “Patriotism,” Reiko and Shinji sacrifice their lives to preserve their honor for their beliefs, but again, Reiko makes the larger sacrifice. Reiko belongs to two causes; she dedicates her life to her country, but more importantly, to her husband. She has no direct ties to the government, and could’ve gone on without her husband. Reiko had the potential to create a new life for herself, but choses to give up her life for a man she is in love with.
“Ever since her marriage her husband’s existence had been her own existence and every breath of his had been a breath drawn by herself. But now, while her husband’s existence in pain was a vivid reality, Reiko could find in this grief of hers no certain proof at all of her own existence” (19). Reiko had so fully dedicated herself to her husband that his pain became her pain and his death certainly had to become her death.
Reiko is also a willing participant in the sacrifice her husband finds truly necessary. Not only that, she is willing to sacrifice herself even before understanding the whole situation. “In the lieutenant’s face, as he hurried silently into the snowy morning, Reiko had read the determination to die. If her husband did not return her own decision was made: she too would die” (3).
Both Reiko and Shinji sacrifice their lives for the greater good, Reiko makes the bigger sacrifice by dying for both her country’s honor and her loyalty to her true love, Shiniji. “Reiko firmly believed that everything her husband was feeling or thinking now, his anguish and distress, was leading her- just as surely as the power in his flesh- to a welcome death. She felt as if her body could melt away with ease and be transformed to the merest fraction of her husband’s thought” (4).
Even in her final hours, Reiko humbles herself to a position below her husband and is content with the sudden change in her fate. Reiko doesn’t boast of her confidence or willingness to die for her lover, but humbly follows her husband’s pursuit of duty through death. Whereas most people in the same situation would fearfully and stressfully await their death, Reiko approaches it as the next step in her life.
“Reiko did not linger. When she though how the pain which had previously opened such a gulf between herself and her dying husband was now to become a part of her own experience, she saw before her only the joy of herself entering a realm her husband had already made his own” (22). Reiko is content, even joyful, with her current situation. She doesn’t resent her husband for asking her to die along with him, but sees it as the next step in her life and has embraced the path.
Reiko sacrificed what could have potentially been a fulfilling life for the man of her dreams- a man that she loved so deeply that she was willing to die along with him to maintain a sense of dignity toward her country and her husband. Not only did she agree to die along with him, she accepted the fact that she would watch him die first, as a witness, and then followed through on her agreement to die herself. Despite the pain that event caused, Reiko was willing to witness her husband’s death, simply because he asked her to.
She understood her duty as a lieutenants wife in a time of war and accepted Shinji’s interpretation of loyalty. In Reiko’s mind, death wasn’t thrust upon her; it was a peaceful necessity. Reiko accepted the fate her husband asked upon her simply because of her love for her country, and even more than that, the love for her husband. That sense of loyalty, particularly loyalty without complaint, comes from a true hero who died for her passions.