Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Time and Timelessness: A Study of Narrative Structure in Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Time and Timelessness: A Study of Narrative Structure in Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore

Article excerpt

This essay examines narrative structure and themes in Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore, mainly from the standpoint of time. It argues that many of the novel's central ideas, such as growth, recovery from trauma, and the redemptive value of suffering, are explored through the philosophical concept of time.

This essay explores the relation between the temporal structure and themes in Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore. Drawing on narrative theories that focus on the temporal aspect of novels and Henri Bergson's philosophical expositions, the essay argues that temporality plays a crucial role in the construction of Murakami's more complex plots, with the major themes of the novel explored and presented through the philosophical concept of time.

Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a young boy named Kafka Tamura. (1) On his fifteenth birthday, Kafka runs away from his home in Tokyo to escape from his father's Oedipal prophecy: that his son would one day kill him and sleep with his mother and sister. Kafka journeys to western Japan and finally settles down in a small library in Takamatsu, where he becomes linked to some unusual people. He suspects one of these characters, an attractive, mature, and melancholy woman called Saeki, to be his lost mother. In another story strand, a slow-witted old man known as Nakata travels to western Japan to search for a mysterious stone with the help of an enthusiastic young truck driver called Hoshino. The two storylines converge near the end of the novel when Nakata finally gets to the small library and meets the enigmatic Saeki.

This contemporary version of Sophocles's tragedy makes reference to a diversity of Eastern and Western myths, books, and music. It has been repeatedly discussed by critics because the puzzling plot and loose ends offer a wide imaginative space and the rich intertextuality suggests the possibility of interpretation from a range of perspectives. (2)

Kafka on the Shore was Murakami's second novel after Japan's annus horribilis in 1995, during which time the Japanese people were hit by the Kansai earthquake and Tokyo Aum gas attack. The two incidents, in Murakami's words "two of the gravest tragedies in Japan's post-war history" (Underground 206), affected him deeply as a novelist. He spent two years preparing two books on the gas attack, interviewing many victims and Aum cult members, (3) and the experience inspired him to write a type of narrative that runs counter to the closed world of Aum and other groups of fundamentalists and extremists, stories that reiterate the value of "openness." (4)

Unlike Murakami's earlier works, this post-1995 novel no longer emphasizes a young man's disappointment at the empty materialistic culture that dominates his society and his own complicity in the condition he criticizes. It attempts to probe deeper into the spiritual dimension through the use of imagination. Kafka's ordeal can be taken as a closed/open war, one that is internalized as two opposing forces inside a person's mind. On a philosophical plane, the "closed" and "open" dichotomy in the novel corresponds closely to the notions of determinism and freedom.

The story deals with past trauma and recovery: "What I have written is basically a story of a lonely 15-year-old who wanders around in search of relief for his soul" (Murakami, Kafuka 372, Mail no. 954). (5) Kafka experienced a traumatic childhood. His mother abandoned him when he was four years old. His father, a famed sculptor, was a twisted, venomous man who, Kafka says, "polluted everything he touched, damaged everyone around him" (Kafka 213). The novel offers no description as to what the man was like, but it is clear that he was the same being as Johnnie Walker, "the infamous cat-killer" (148), who epitomizes violence and vice in the old man Nakata's story. Kafka's strong hatred of his father suggests that he has been ill-treated. …

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