Every one of us has had to show strength at some point in our lives because of trials or adversities we have encountered. It's not just about physical strength, but mental, emotional, and spiritual strength as well. Now, it's not a matter of winning or losing; instead, the stakes are far higher: your life. You must summon the strength to absorb and withstand oppression, loneliness, despair, mistakes, and misunderstandings. All of these difficulties blend to form a menacing sandstorm, and you find yourself right in the middle of it. It's similar to the case of Kafka Tamura in the story Kafka on the Shore, the world's toughest 15-year-old boy. On his 15th birthday, Kafka decides to flee his home for an unknown destination, but the journey is not easy. Although this journey is already doomed by Kafka's father's sinister self-fulfilling prophecy, Kafka does everything in his power to avoid it. But does Kafka succeed? What steps would you take if you were in his shoes? Would you accept fate or fight against it? You would have to not only escape the sinister prophecy, but also deal with living ghosts, mysterious and cruel mascots, un-dead World War II soldiers, and a visit to the Land of the Dead.
Kafka on the Shore is a story about a 15-year-old boy named Kafka Tamura, who is the protagonist (of the novel's first string). Kafka decides to flee his home under the shadow of his father's sinister prophecy, "Oedipus' Curse," and is determined to find his mother and sister, who abandoned him when he was 4 years old. Another protagonist (from the novel's second string), Satoru Nakata, is a simpleton, a 60-year-old man who lives alone but possesses special abilities such as the ability to talk and track cats. Murakami has divided the novel into two threads: one that follows Kafka's story and the other that follows Nakata's. Moving forward in the story requires a decision from both protagonists; failing to do so will have disastrous consequences. When it comes to making decisions, Kafka has two options: accept his father's prognostication of his future fate or fight against it and achieve something meaningful in his life. Unlike Nakata, who is content with simply existing, talking, and tracking lost cats as part of his normal daily routine until he encounters a cruel mascot named Johnnie Walker, who forces him to choose between killing Johnnie Walker and saving the cats for the greater good. Both Kafka and Nakata, the protagonists, meet a couple of terrifying antagonists, but along their separate journeys, they meet and encounter peculiar characters who appear in the story occasionally and help the protagonists complete their journey and achieve meaning in their lives. Both threads intertwine and combine to create a mind-bending and trance-inducing masterpiece for the reader.
Themes in Kafka on the Shore
The plot of Kafka on the Shore revolves around a few themes that are prominent throughout the story. The following section explores a few of these themes briefly.
Fate and Prophecy vs. Self-reliance
Kafka on the Shore takes place in a bizarre universe where characters struggle to make sense of out-of-the-ordinary events and encounters as well as their personal feelings and actions. Kafka's story begins with a conflict between his fate, which manifests itself in the form of his father's sinister prophecy, and Kafka's aspiration to live a meaningful life on his terms. His father's prophecy is reminiscent of the Athenian tragedy Oedipus Rex. Kafka flees his home not only to avoid the prophecy but also to find his mother and sister, who abandoned him when he was only four years old. But, because he is bound by the unforgiving curse, he will murder his father and sleep with both his mother and sister. Characters like Nakata and Hoshino, on the other hand, believe that destiny has placed them on a challenging quest, which they can only complete through sheer willpower. Miss Saeki and Oshima, two more characters who are convinced they know when they will die. Because of this, both of them live their lives without fear and deal with serious issues when the time comes.
Mind, Body, and Soul
The world of Kafka on the Shore is written by Murakami in a paranormal and transcendental manner, which is obvious because the genre of the novel is magical realism, which involves the real world having a certain degree of magic and fantasy with restricted information and a unique world-building structure that is visible throughout the story. The tone of the story is paranormal from the start because the characters encounter otherworldly beings and milieu that keep raging a constant conflict between the minds, bodies, and souls of the characters, leaving them befuddled and psychologically damaged. Nakata was not born dumb and unintelligent but inherited it after being involved in a traumatic and bizarre accident on Rice Bowl Hill that left him in a blackout for several weeks and detached from reality, resulting in mind, body, and soul segregation. The soul of Miss Saeki, who is twenty years old at the time of her boyfriend's death, also breaks away with her body. Nakata and Miss Saeki both suffer from soul segregation, becoming mentally detached and physically living in an empty shell. In addition, both of them only cast their shadows partially because they are trapped in a parallel universe. Speaking of our main protagonist, Kafka, who experiences more mystic incidents than any other character, Kafka completes half of the sinister prophecy by entering Nakata's body and separates his soul in his dreams to complete the other half of the prophecy, resulting in conflict between Kafka's physical, mental, and spiritual states.
Parallel Universe and Supernatural Events
As previously stated, the story is set in a transcendental setting, and paranormal activities occur on occasion. A few paranormal activities that occur in the story and over which the characters have no control but are involved are as follows:
- Rice Bowl Hill Incident – A group of students inexplicably falls into a coma during a class field trip on a hill called Rice Bowl, and the Secret Service of the USA investigates the matter.
- Fish Rain – 2,000 sardines and mackerel fall from the sky in a shopping district.
- Leech Rain – A huge amount of leeches rain down in the middle of a highway.
- Land of the Dead – Nakata's and Hoshino’s quest leads them to flip an Entrance Stone, allowing Kafka to enter and make a daring escape from the land of the dead.
Musical Stimulation and References
Anyone who is an aficionado of Murakami’s work is well aware that musical introspection and references, chiefly classical music, are prevalent throughout his short stories and novels. Similarly, Kafka on the Shore presents a wide range of music and its influence on the emotions of characters like Kafka, Miss Saeki, and Hoshino. Kafka is often seen hearing the classical musicians and music bands like Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Prince, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Radiohead, etc. Miss Saeki was a musician who sang only a single song in her work, titled "Kafka on the Shore." Hoshino, on the other hand, is not initially interested in classical music, but during his quest with Nakata, he visits a café and falls in love with music after hearing Beethoven, Haydn, and Schubert. Characters are influenced by the power of music, their emotions reorient, their perspective on life changes, and this leads to reworking their decisions. They also feel detached and nostalgic as well as acknowledge the incredible beauty and puissance of music.
A few bizarre and standout characters in Kafka on the Shore
The Boy Named CrowThe character of The Boy Named Crow is one of the novel's strange characters. Crow is Kafka Tamura's mystic alter ego, and he frequently appears when Kafka is in peril. Crow also counsels and warns Kafka on occasion, as well as providing our main protagonist with an alias.
Satoru NakataNakata is one of the main protagonists of the novel. A simpleton of 60 years old who lives alone. Because of a traumatic accident in his childhood, he has a special ability to communicate with the cats. Furthermore, he feels strangely guided by fate and can sleep for days without any effects while separating his spirit. Hoshino refers to him as a "certified sleep marathoner."
Johnnie WalkerAn infamous cat killer who has assumed the form of a mysterious and evil mascot for Johnnie Walker, a Scotch whisky brand. Johnnie Walker kidnaps cats, and then dissects each one while humming a jolly tune, eats the bloody heart, and keeps the severed heads as a prized collection. He is on a mission to collect the souls of cats to create a special flute.
The Living Ghost of Miss SaekiThe Living Ghost of Miss Saeki appears in the story when Kafka temporarily resides in a guestroom at the Komura Memorial Library. It is a young girl of fifteen years old; Miss Saeki at the age of fifteen. It usually appears in the middle of the night, when Kafka is sleeping and alone in the library.
Colonel SandersColonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, also makes a couple of cameo appearances in the story, assisting Nakata and Hoshino in their quest. Of course, this is not the real one, but rather another supernatural being in the story. The Colonel describes himself as "neither God nor Buddha, but just the insensate." Hoshino sees him as a pimp who hires out drop-dead gorgeous philosophy students as sex workers.
The title's meaning and interpretation: Kafka on the Shore
Murakami describes the “shore” in Kafka on the Shore as the border between the conscious and the unconscious minds. It's “a story of two different worlds, consciousness, and unconsciousness.” Most of us are living in those two worlds, one foot in one or the other, and all of us are living on the borderline. J. M. (n.d.). Into the Labyrinth: The Dream Logic of Kafka on the Shore | Steppenwolf Theatre. Into the Labyrinth: The Dream Logic of Kafka on the Shore. And it’s also clear in the story how characters struggle to distinguish between the real and parallel worlds. Despite the author's brief explanation, the reader will notice a few clues to the title, which are as follows:
Kafka on the Shore (Photograph)When Kafka decides to flee his home; he takes a photograph of himself and his older sister when they were children, both of them on a seashore in an unnamed location.
Kafka on the Shore (Painting)An oil painting in an old-fashioned style with a young boy standing and another young figure in the sea with feet dipped in the water, the beach, the horizon, sky, and clouds, and the largest cloud resembling a crouching Sphinx.
Kafka on the Shore (Song)There's also a song by the same name, Kafka on the Shore, performed by Miss Saeki, which was her only single and sold millions of copies. If the reader ponders the song's lyrics, he or she will notice Miss Saeki's foreshadowing of past, present, and future events throughout the entire novel.
Kafka on the Shore is a magical realism masterpiece and unquestionably one of the Top 10 magical realism novels. Many people regard this as Haruki Murakami's magnum opus. It is a puzzling and mind-bending story with a rustic prose style that takes the reader on a wild ride where reality and fantasy are difficult to distinguish. Murakami has used dualistic elements in the story, such as fate vs. willpower, consciousness vs. unconsciousness, mind vs. body, real-world vs. parallel world, mundane vs. supernatural, living vs. dead, and the power and beauty of nostalgia and music. A fantastic blend of magical realism and everyday life that makes the reader think about and question their own life. In a nutshell, Murakami's storytelling is evocative, polarizing, and Kafkaesque, but it is also fascinating in every way.
Sources of Information and References
- H. M. (2005). Kafka on the Shore. (P. G., Trans.). (NaN ed.). Vintage Books.
- Kafka on the Shore - Wikipedia. (2021, July 24). Kafka on the Shore - Wikipedia
- Kafka on the Shore | Haruki Murakami. (2014, October 6). Haruki Murakami
- Kafka on the Shore Themes | LitCharts. (n.d.)LitCharts
- Kafka on the Shore Themes | GradeSaver. (n.d.). Kafka on the Shore Themes | GradeSaver
- J. M. (n.d.). Into the Labyrinth: The Dream Logic of Kafka on the Shore | Steppenwolf Theatre. Into the Labyrinth: The Dream Logic of Kafka on the Shore