Life for Sale by Yukio Mishima (Review) by Ezra S.

It occurred to me that Yukio Mishima’s novel, Life for Sale, can be described as faustian in the truest sense of the word. This review will contain spoilers for the novel. If you haven’t already read it, I very much recommend it!

After a failed attempt at suicide, Hanio quits his job and feels as if he can freely seek death, and so he puts his life up for sale in a Tokyo newspaper. Several bizarre clients and one tragic love story later, Hanio realizes that he has made quite the amount of money. Much more, in fact, than he ever would have at this previous job. He suspends his offer to sell his life and moves out of his apartment, where he meets a strange girl, seemingly high on LSD. He begins a relationship with her, in spite of her paranoid belief that she has congenital syphilis, something which is likely unfounded. When she attempts to kill Hanio and herself one night, he stops and scolds her, to which she questions if he is afraid of dying. He realizes that his new freedom has left him unwilling to die, and yet, when he imagines a ‘normal’ life with this girl, one in which he has a child with her and gets a normal job once more, the desire to die appears once more. Eventually, he flees her possessive grasp and leaves Tokyo, attempting to evade a perceived threat that is tailing him. This fear turns out to be based in reality when he is captured. This whole situation is too strange and too long to explain, so please read the novel. He manages to escape his captivity, and flees to a police station, but he is not believed by the detective questioning. In the end, Hanio is left with an unclear fate, but what is clear is that he will now live in fear for the life that he was previously selling.

Faust sold his soul after a failed attempt at suicide, just as Hanio did. There are other comparisons that can be made between the two stories, such as the parallel and mirroring of Gretchen in Kaoru’s mother, but that is a different story. Faust eventually realizes his sin, just as Hanio realizes that he desires to live, but it is too late. What Faust had done had damned him to Hell, and what Hanio had done had damned him to a life of paranoia and fear. Hanio realized late that he wanted to live; the damage had been done. And in that sense, Life for Sale is truly faustian. Despite the absurd and comical nature of the novel, Mishima warns us against giving our lives away, just as the tale of Faust does.

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