Friday, February 26, 2016

'Wind-up Bird Chronicle' Analysis

Get the book here.

Thanks to u/whiskey_bud on Reddit for this analysis. I'm going to write more of my own ideas (and post some excerpts on my Youtube channel), particularly about reading the book through the lens of the Western notion of good/evil, light/dark vs. the Eastern yin and yang lens where good/evil and light/dark are inseparable. Of course, some of what is said below fits with that idea:

I'm going to write a bit at length here, because if I had to pick an all time "favorite novel", this would be it.
Before I get to your questions, I have to preface with some general feelings of mine on the book. I feel it's an incredible novel on a number of different levels. First, it's an extraordinarily complex and layered work (something Murakami is often criticized for lacking). Every time I pick the book up, I can apply a different "lens" to it, and experience completely different, yet equally developed, meaning within the work. At various times in my life, I've read through the book as a reflection on Buddhist philosophy in the modern world, an exploration of Jungian archetypes and the Freudian Subconscious, and an investigation of masculinity and emasculation in modern Japanese society (these are just a few, I could go on). When people criticize Murakami for being too "pop-ish" and not deep enough, I have to think that either they're not giving it a fair shot, or I'm simply nuts (both entirely possible).
In addition to having great respect for the book on an intellectual level, it also resonates with me on a personal level more than anything I've read. I'm not going to claim that Murakami is more innovative stylistically than Joyce, or more timeless than Shakespeare, but I personally appreciate WUBC more than any of their works. I think the reason for this is the fact that the book fundamentally deals with one aspect of human existence that is not only an inseparable part, but even a defining characteristic of life: the experience of suffering (more on this later). I mean, who can't benefit from an exploration of the role of suffering in life? I'm currently reading a Don Delillo book that deals significantly with the relationship between an artist and his work - it's a wonderfully written book, but I'm not an artist, and not terribly interested in how artists feel about their own work.
So, now you know why I'm in love with the book, so let's explore it's significance.
As I mentioned, the book to me is ultimately about suffering. I think this is best demonstrated through an exploration of question (3) which you listed. Who was the man he beat with the bat? First, I have to point out a mistake you made. He DID NOT kill the man. Here's an excerpt from that passage:
Once he fell to the floor, though, I felt my terror turn to unmistakable anger. The anger was still there, the quiet anger that had welled up in my body earlier while I wasthinking about Kumiko. Released now, it flared up uncontrollably into something close to an intense hatred. I smashed the man's thigh again with the bat...Then I realized the man was smiling. Even as I went on hitting him, the man kept smiling at me - the more I hit him, the bigger the smilethe man gave out a high, thin laughI left the man where he lay, still laughing and coughing.
So, Toru beat the piss out the guy, but the guy doesn't die - in fact, he doesn't show any sign of being beaten (in a metaphorical sense), despite the fact that he was bleeding profusely. What to make of this?
Remember when the guy was first introduced in the story? It was the night that Toru learned that Kumiko had the abortion, against his wishes (many months earlier). He did what a lot of us would do, which is to wander the streets and ultimately wind up at a bar, getting drunk (alcohol can be a way to numb pain and ease suffering). The guy played a couple tunes on the guitar at the bar, but then he did a "magic trick", that involved burning his hand (or at least seeming to). Here's what the man said before beginning the trick: "The reason that people sing songs for other people is because they want to have the power to arouse empathy, to break free of the narrow shell of the self and share their pain…" Murakami goes on "He held his left hand offer the lighted candle. Little by little, he brought the palm closer and closer to the flame. Someone in the audience made a sounds like a sigh or a moan. You could see the tip of the flame burning the man's palmA woman released a hard little scream. Everyone else just sat in frozen horror".
What to make of all this? What's the significance of Toru beating this man, but being unable to kill him? Bottom line, this man is a symbol for pain and suffering that is an undeniable part of the human condition. He appears in the novel when Toru's suffering is great - first when Kumiko has the abortion, later once Kumiko leaves Toru. In his first appearance in the book, go goes on at length about pain, and performs an act that makes the audience feel the same physical pain he's trying to simulate. He is a physical embodiment of the suffering in Toru's life. It's only natural to try to destroy suffering, to try to kill it so that we don't have to suffer it in our lives. But everyone knows that's not possible - Toru finds this out when he tries to kill the man, only to have him laugh in his face. Suffering can't be beaten or eliminated from our lives - only accepted and dealt with accordingly.
I think if you read the novel again through this lens, lots of things will start to "click" (they did for me). Remember Lt. Mamiya, and how he told Toru and Kumiko that the movement of water is very important in their lives? When the water flows, you have to go with it - when the water has stopped flowing, you can only accept it and wait. When you're in a dark place, go all the way to the very bottom of the darkest well - and don't come to the top until you're ready. What he's really talking about is the suffering that we all have to deal with in our lives (the "ups and downs" we all invariably experience). Don't fight suffering, only accept it and be ready to move on when the time is right - very Zen I think.
As for question (2) that you asked, it's not really possible to understand Kumiko's true personal reason for leaving. I think the entire novel has to be interpreted as a reflection on Toru's thought process and mental anguish with the pain in his life. In my opinion, I think that Toru interprets her departure through the lens of his own emasculation. Toru wasn't "man enough" to make Kumiko want him sexually, though she was satisfied with him on an emotional level (she says at much in her letter to him). Notice in the beginning how Toru is unemployed, and doing housework like cleaning and cooking. For an American, this might be a little bit unmanly, but in Japanese culture, this is ultimate emasculation. I lived in Asia for a number of years, and I've known beautiful, successful women that couldn't find a husband, because having a wife that makes more than you is a huge loss of face. To be honest, I think I'd have to be more of an expert in sexuality in contemporary Japan to fully appreciate this, but I think that's the gist.
To follow up with question (1), about the man without a face. To be perfectly honest, I don't have an answer that fits perfectly to that question. I personally believe that this man is a reflection of Toru's subconscious, and his inability to reach for and find the answers to the questions he seeks (the man is constantly blocking Toru from going where he wants to go). I'd be very happy to hear what anyone else has to say.
In the end, my piece of advise is this (if you're still reading what I've written, of course!) - don't focus too terribly much on plot elements in Murakami. It's easy to lose the forest for the trees by trying to neatly align every single plot element into a concise and coherent narrative. That's not what Murakami is all about. Lots of the characters and plot elements in his work represent subconscious and otherwise abstract realities, that while very "real", don't necessarily fit into our notion of a unified and objective narrative.
Anyway, I've written for far too long, but I hope this at least gives you another perspective on the work! I could write a book on WUBC itself, in case you can't tell :D Let's chat some more if you have any more ideas or questions!

AJ Snook's Amazon Author Page
Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

No comments:

Post a Comment

back to top