The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima tells the story of a man named Mizoguchi as he reflects back upon his middle school years, when, after committing an irrevocably bad deed, attempts to understand his motives in retrospect.
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Mizoguchi is born into a poor family on a sparsely populated cape. From an early age he understands that he is an ugly child; that he is weakly, and possesses a debilitating stutter that renders him unable to communicate effectively with his peers. Isolated and angry, he begins at an early age to regard the world around him with ire and distrust, taking solace only in himself.
Mizoguchi's father, a tuberculosis-infected priest, instructs him from an early age that the Golden Temple in Kyoto is the most beautiful thing on earth. Mizoguchi has an obsession with beauty, particularly because he doesn't see himself to possess it as an individual. His issues are compounded atop each other when his father brings Mizoguchi to the temple to meet Tayama Dosen, a priest and higher up at the Golden Temple. Mizoguchi, having for years building up ideas of the temple's illustrious beauty from his father's stories, is disappointed by the reality of its construct.
Years later in 1944 when Mizoguchi's father dies, he decides to return to Kyoto to study with Dosen, and there continues his isolated life, now from the vantage of an acolyte. His prime interest is the Golden Temple, in that he can't comprehend the dissidence between his initial ideas of it and what it actually looks like in reality. Meanwhile, he befriends a young understudy named Tsurukawa; Tsurukawa contrasts dramatically from Mizoguchi, coming from an upper class family and possessing a great deal of professional promise.
When Japan is defeated at the hands of the Allies during WWII, Mizoguchi's fascination with the temple wanes. As he continues to shun reality, he begins instead to take up an interest in committing acts of evil, as if to separate himself from the concept of beauty altogether.
In the final pages of the book, Mizoguchi and Tsurakawa begin to drift apart, and Mizoguchi instead befriends a student at Otani University named Kashiwagi. Kashiwagi, endowed with a clubbed foot, feels similarly to Mizoguchi in terms of outsider status, and convinces him to live life to its fullest in a nihilistic fashion. Mizoguchi, after receiving word from Dosen that he won't be able to continue on at the Golden Temple into priesthood, decides in a moment of madness, to burn it down.
Mizoguchi sets the Golden Temple ablaze on July 2, 1950. It renews his passion in life, and serves as a moment of grim catharsis.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like the philosophical angles that Mishima attaches to beauty.
Best scene in story:
It's hard for me to choose. I think it's fascinating when Mizoguchi starts to take on aspects of nihilism, which are absurd, but fascinating.
Opinion about the main character:
I dislike that Mizoguchi is so myopic about his lot in life. It's turned him vicious.