Haruki Murakami, a contemporary Japanese writer, confronts the contradictions of modern Japanese identity in his novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, to depict the desolate mood of Japan after World War II. Identity loss and solitude surfaced due to the drastic decrease in population following the atomic bombings in Japan. As argued by Historian Rielly (2010) in Kamikaze Attacks of World War II, this loss of identity has resulted in countless suicides across various regions of Japan, such as the Okigahara forest (9).
The recurring theme of war in the novel asserts the importance of individualism as a key component within Japan’s conformed society. Haruki Murakami utilizes symbolism, motif, and allegories throughout The Wind-up Bird Chronicle to demonstrate the necessity of surpassing conflicts and social conformity that afflict individuals as a result of daily interactions. Murakami conveys that, regardless of how much an individual may suffer, time eventually heals all wounds and empowers growth from within.
To begin, Murakami uses symbolism to demonstrate the progressive deterioration of Toru and Kumiko’s relationship during a full moon, as exemplified by how their argument began over “blue tissues and flower-pattern toilet paper” (16). Murakami emphasizes the phases of the moon to establish the influence of religious heritage through the presence of a moon God named Tsukiyomi in Japanese culture. As argued by Brinkley (2010) in his book, Japan, Its History, Arts and Literature, the Japanese society views the moon as a symbol of the beginning and end of an event since the phases of the moon control tidal waves (97).
The moon is also portrayed to have an invisible influence on incidences because of its drastic effects on the earth if its position is altered (Brinkley, 2010, 97). Consequently, these cultural beliefs led Toru to blame Kumiko’s temper on a “full moon… [and] Kumiko’s period” (17) and assume that their fight was going to be forgotten when Kumiko’s period ended. Alternatively, Murakami shows the effects of societal conformity to convey that an individual’s fate lies within themselves through Kumiko’s decision to leave Toru due to his mindset.
From this, he emphasizes that in order to alter one’s fate, individuals should not rely on societal beliefs and instead overcome struggles by facing the consequences of their own mistakes. Furthermore, Murakami mentions the full moon on the night Toru was trapped inside a well because being deprived of food enabled him to grasp the value of his own life. During his entrapment, death began to occur to his “mind as something real and imminent” as he saw a “nearly full, [and] corpulent moon” (159-161) symbolic of the inevitable outcome of his own death.
In that instance, he was given two choices: continue living or face death because the moon serves as a reminder that even if he resented his situation, it would remain unsolved if he died. The idea of life, death, and rebirth are symbolized through the moon to communicate that life resides in one’s own hand because each individual perceives life uniquely, which will distinguish them from other people Through Toru, Murakami stresses the importance of overcoming and transitioning beyond disillusionment, conveying that life should be free of societal conformity and without guideline.
Only then would individuals be able to die without any regrets. As seen by how Toru’s mindset was influenced by the moon as a pretext and resulted in social conformity, individuals should strive to find their own purpose in life in order to achieve fulfillment instead of yielding to unconscious influences. Throughout The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Murakami uses the wind-up bird as a motif that reestablishes the flow of time because its cries were heard throughout the novel whenever “the world descended more deeply into chaos” (75).
Serving as a reminder for individuals to continue to survive regardless of how chaotic their lives may be, the bird cries at various points throughout the novel to prophesize both fortunate and unfortunate events to come, such as the death of Cinnamon’s father. Based on Japanese traditions, Ho-birds descended from the heavens to perform good deeds (Schumacher, 2011) and therefore appear as symbols of peace and harmony, similar to the wind-up bird’s cries whenever “the world descended more deeply into chaos” (75).
In contrast, when death occurs, a Torii bird represents the entrance to the grounds of a Shinto shrine, serving as a “gateway between life and death” (Otto + Holbrook, 1902, 33). The wind-up bird is depicted in the novel to be a combination of both birds, prophesizing a milestone in a character’s life. For instance, shortly after Cinnamon hears the bird’s cry, he witnesses mysterious men burying a beating heart. The heart is inferred to belong to his deceased father, who dies when Cinnamon was eleven and was discovered with various organs missing.
As the heart was being buried, Cinnamon “intuitively [felt] that something very important was about to happen” (214) and loses the ability to speak following the event foreseen by the wind-up bird. The motif of the bird was used to serve as a prophet for future events because it attempts to hint to characters that although they will experience hardship, they must remain optimistic. The cry Cinnamon hears serves as a reminder that although he will eventually face the milestone of losing his voice, he must not be scare to face and accept his fate. “The way Cinnamon stopped speaking… as] all ingeniously programmed from the start for [a]… purpose”.
Eventually, the hardships that are meant to be faced cannot be avoided as running away from it would not not anyone. Although the characters go through different forms hardships, they all end up hearing the wind-up bird in the same manner; it cries just before crisis strikes and shifts the path of their lives forever. The bird serves as a reminder to characters that everything happens for a purpose; what cannot be avoided must be endured because only then would individuals be able to move on with their lives.
Moreover, Murakami uses the bird to convey that time does not stop for those who constitute failure for themselves through self-loathing. Therefore, individuals should make their lives worthwhile by focusing on the present rather than lingering on their past because it cannot be changed. However, their present and future can be changed because every experience they undergo will enable further development. Moreover, Murakami utilizes allegory through the guitar man whom Toru confronts as an epitome for the harsh realities of life.
The guitar man appears twice in Toru’s life: when Kumiko had an abortion and when she left him. When the guitar man first appeared, he was on stage doing a magic trick that “looked like he was really burning himself” (143). Although not apparent at the time, the burning mentioned foreshadows Kumiko’s abortion and the beginning of the deterioration in their relationship. Furthermore, the guitar man is physical embodiment of suffering that exists in Toru’s life since he did not undergo physical pain, but conveyed mental pain.
After Toru attempts to assault him as if he were confronting his past regrets: the man laughs because Toru cannot change what has already been done. By portraying Toru with hardships in his life, Murakami demonstrates a concept often shown in an individual’s path to achieving enlightenment; happiness and suffering cannot exist without one another because true happiness cannot be achieved without experiencing suffering first.
Murakami prompts readers that while suffering cannot eliminated, it can be avoided through guidance and experience from friends and family members, further highlighting the necessity of facing and understanding struggles because only then will individuals gain more experience to combat future sufferings. In summation, Murakami emphasizes the importance of discovering the meaning of life in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle through individualism and innate self-esteem by guidance along the way that is not to be neglected.
Through incorporating religion in the implied form of the moon god, Tsukiyomi, Murakami allows readers to realize the strong connections that exist between meanings that cannot be seen and concrete facts. By doing so, he evokes feelings on the possibility that every experience in one’s life contains deep and profound philosophical meaning. The environment individuals inhabit and the families that raise them are meant as guides; friends and family are not meant to affect the way individuals decide to live their lives.
Untimely, individuals must realize who they are as people and what their purpose in life is. Essentially, life is about self-purpose, achievement, and fulfilment; individuals should have their own unique dream accompanied by a goal in life that will enable them to grow and develop. Murakami’s use of symbolism through references of mythological creatures and common gods ultimately serve as an effective technique in heightening the meaning within The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, conveying that individuals should go with the flow of life instead of attempting to live life a certain way dictated by others.
Imagine life to be several uncontrollable strands of thread in which some were meant to intertwine with others and some not. Overall, Murakami writes The Wind-up Bird Chronicle in order to educate philosophical readers of being able to accept whatever lies in upcoming life events in the form of entertainment that include hidden meaning within symbolic events and items.