Haruki Murakami’s Novel Kafka On The Shore; The Place Of Nonhuman Fighters

July 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Nonhuman Interactions and Agents in Kafka on the Shore

As evidenced by several of Murakami’s works, the themes that deal with the metaphysical world are a common and pervasive part of Murakami’s beloved stories. Not one to shy away from heavily dealing with the esoteric mechanisms of the real world, Kafka on the Shore is a novel that epitomizes Murakami’s penchant for the uncanny, as clearly represented by the role in which fate and destiny – examples of nonhuman forces – play in bridging the gap between the novel’s character timelines. The pervasive theme of nonhuman interactions in Kafka on the Shore is heavily implied to be a crucial ingredient in creating the crossroads between each individual characters’ seemingly divergent timelines and how these nonhuman interactions aid in the long-term development, and eventual merging, of the two main characters.

In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami foreshadows the fundamental parallelism between the characters of Kafka Tamura and Satoru Nakata by setting the characters out into journeys that, initially, seem to have originated from incongruous reasonings. In Kafka’s case, he sets out on a personal journey to search for the true identities of his mother and sister as well as to evade the “small sandstorm that keeps changing directions” (Murakami 2) – namely Kafka’s Oedipal curse – that he will inexplicably and ironically relinquish to on his journey to find his missing family. While attempting to evade his fate, Kafka’s alter ego, dubbed as “The boy named Crow,” serves as the primary influential and often apathetic guide for Kafka as he combats the “metaphysical and symbolic storm” brewing within him (Murakami 2). Meanwhile, Satoru Nakata – an old man that has lost a majority of his higher intellectual functions such as his ability to read during World War II – gains the unusual capacity to talk to cats and utilizes this peculiar skill to acquire a job as a “lost cat seeker,” (Murakami 25) becoming highly dependent on this ability to obtain a meager income for himself (Murakami 104). In correlation, a peer-reviewed article, titled On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism from the University of Chicago, provides an explanation as to why these nonhuman interactions are so significant in shaping the thoughts and actions of the two secluded protagonists. In the article, the authors induce that anthropomorphic agents can serve as highly influential instruments in human social interactions, especially in cases of strong social isolation as depicted by the two main characters who are not only detached from their families but also from the surrounding collectivist nature of Japanese society (Epley et. al. 14; Murakami 3-7). The two main characters reliance on metaphysical mechanisms for survival and their association of their respective “nonhuman agent[s]” (Epley et. al 1-2) as objects “worthy of [their moral] respect” (Epley et. al 1) highlights the tremendous impact nonhuman forces have on the formation of the characters’ internal and external motivations thus, leading to the eventual convergence of their timelines.

For Nakata, his ability to converse with cats has given him a method to not only earn some money to purchase what he considers to be luxurious commodities, such as eel, but also to cope with his identity as a pariah amongst his own family, with Nakata being the only member of his family unable to sustain himself without outside assistance. The significance of Nakata’s dependency on his cat-talking abilities is most notably accentuated in one particular interaction with a cat nicknamed “Otsuka” (Murakami 24-28). Within their interaction, Otsuka shows Nakata the relevance of his skill by stating that he is “not so dumb after all” (25) since he can communicate with nonhuman organisms while normal humans cannot (25) thus, allowing Nakata to attain insight above any average human being. Through this dialogue with Otsuka, readers are able to glimpse the immense impact Nakata’s cat-talking ability has had on his rational, further emphasizing the “powerful impact” (Epley et. al 4) nonhuman organisms have between the characters’ timelines and individual development. In addition, the article titled Positive Social Interactions and the Human Body at Work: Linking Organizations and Physiology expands this idea further by exploring the concept of “human physiological systems” (Heaphy & Dutton 1) and the “organizational importance” (1) of immensely receptive individuals, such as Nakata and Kafka, to beneficial social intercommunications (2-3), whether they are nonhuman or not. The article does not necessarily deal with nonhuman interactions but rather the real life implications and significance of physiological mechanisms of positive social interactions, including “nonhuman agent[s]” (Epley et. al 1-2), towards social interactions (Heaphy & Dutton 2-3), juxtaposing the effects of nonhuman objects in the human realm as well as in Kafka on the Shore’s realm. Through the article’s assertions that “positive social interactions” (2-4) have long-term “beneficial physiological effects” (1), nonhuman interactions are further shown to be a large and vital part in not only the characters’ personal growth and collective intercommunication but also in real life social interactions.

In an article from the New Yorker titled “Subconscious Tunnels,” John Updike scrutinizes Murakami’s capacity to intertwine seemingly disparate, and strikingly cryptic, chronologies and themes therefore, further contributing to Murakami’s enigmatic themes and characters within the novel. Furthermore, the author accentuates Murakami’s perception of the “materialist” and “garishly illuminated age” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) of contemporary society which is highlighted by the “grotesque figments” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) of mainstream representations as illustrated by characters such as the obscure Johnnie Walker and, later on, the flamboyant Colonel Sanders. Updike’s assertion is illustrated by the manner in which Murakami depicts the scenario when Nakata first confronts and then murders Johnnie Walker, describing the whole ordeal in a way that makes it seem as if it was a mere delusion on Nakata’s part as evidenced by Murakami’s characterization of Johnnie Walker: “He was somewhere between young and old, handsome and ugly” (Murakami 68). Nakata’s nonhuman interaction with Johnnie Walker – whether he was imagined or not – serves as a crucial instigator that launches Nakata’s “odyssey” towards a destiny that will soon intertwine with Kafka Tamura’s very own. Moreover, these characters illustrate the ambiguous parameters between the internal and external “darkness” of our world and our individual “souls” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) and how these perceptions lead back to an intrinsically linked universal metaphor that Murakami weaves within Kafka on the Shore or, in allusion to Goethe’s words, “[e]verything’s a metaphor” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”; Murakami 57).

In correlation to Updike’s claim, a scholarly article from Cornell University titled Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts discusses the disparity between “nonnatural entities” (Barrett & Keil 219, 237) – such as God – and the “professed theological beliefs and concepts” of university students (219). The authors of the article raises the question of how humanity, particularly followers of monotheistic religions, can characterize a “nonnatural entity” (219) that is “omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal” (220) within “the mind of a limited being like man” (220). The argument of the authors most especially mirrors the actions and beliefs of Kafka Tamura as a young student whose reliance on metaphysical, nonhuman beings raises the question of whether he truly trusts these forces to push him forward on his journey or if he is merely using them as justification for his hasty actions, such as the time when – following the murder of Johnnie Walker – he awakens and discovers himself drenched in blood after running away from home (Murakami 37). Additionally, the authors assert that, by connotating anthropomorphic qualities to an entity whose existence is beyond the human capacity of understanding and “by ignoring the ontological distance” (Barrett & Keil 221) between God and human society, normal humans have developed “anthropomorphic language” in order to grasp the concept of God (221). The concept discussed in this article correlates back to the God-like entities within the novel such as Johnnie Walker who predicted the arrival of Nakata and his rage-fueled murder at the hands of the old man (Murakami 77-80, 90-91), with Murakami heavily implying that Walker is a supernatural entity as demonstrated by Johnnie Walker’s ambiguous statement “[a] person’s got to have an appearance and name, am I right?” (68).

Additionally, Updike exhibits the somewhat arbitrary details of the novel and how these details will eventually converge to depict the “luxuriant, lighthearted, and… undisciplined” nature of Japanese society and culture (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”). Updike also mentions the fact that various spiritualistic religions such as Buddhism and, most especially, Shintoism play a crucial role within Japanese society since the 5th century and how these religions were even used as “powerful spiritual weapon[s]” during Japan’s imperial wars (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) therefore, it is justifiable the amount in which these religions influence the formation of Murakami’s otherworldly themes and how substantially powerful of a role nonhuman objects play within the characters’ chronologies. In addition, a vital and dominant component of Shintoism, in particular, emphasizes the concept of “kami” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) which, as defined by theorist Motoori Norinaga, deals with “anything whatsoever which was out of the ordinary” (Updike, 2005: Norinaga, Motoori), a large component in Murakami’s novels. Updike’s allegations offer a fresh perspective in Murakami’s application of metaphysical forces and the exertion of their influence upon the characters’ timelines in addition to the inevitability of several events that occur in the novel such as the simultaneous – and premeditated – murders of Johnnie Walker and Koichi Tamura. Furthermore, in consideration of the real life impact Shintoism has had on not only Murakami’s novels but also his upbringing, Updike’s assertion that “kami” does not only exist within the realm of “heavenly and earthly forces” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) within Kafka on the Shore but also through the combined manifestations of living and nonliving organisms, most notably a “divine,” omnipotent stone that Nakata and Hoshino discover on the latter part of their journey to Shikoku (Murakami 248-250). Thus, Updike concludes that the two main protagonists can only merge and communicate in the metaphysical plane of existence classified by the author as the “realm of kami” (Updike, “Subconscious Tunnels”) with the divine stone serving as a sort of supernatural portal to Kafka’s and Nakata’s generally parallel timelines.

As a result of analyzing various sources, it can be concluded that the characters within Kafka on the Shore are intrinsically linked by nonhuman agents beyond their control and the characters’ respective synergy, enabling the formation of an optimal passageway for the characters’ chronologies to, ultimately, converge. More specifically, the impact of Japanese spirituality and the function of otherworldly religions in their society is distinctly characterized by several characters in Kafka on the Shore, most especially Kafka Tamura and Satoru Nakata, and how their interactions impact the novel’s events overall. Additionally, the characters’ dependence on these metaphysical mechanisms to move their stories further serves as a mirror to the spiritualistic nature of Japanese society and their reliance on the will of the kami to supply fortune and well-being to their families and friends. From talking cats to an omnipotent stone, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore scrutinizes and delve into the innerworkings of Japanese society and how, eventually, we will all meet in the “realm of [the] kami.”

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