Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood | Diasporic Experience
Diasporic Experience in Norwegian Wood
This thesis project focuses on Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (1987), a tale of a boy who lives in Germany and feels that he has lost his childhood age and friends in his own homeland Japan. Toru, the protagonist of the novel, is in Germany and reflects his past life in Japan and Japanese university and remembers his friends there and finally feels nostalgia. Murakami tries to present the real life of the people who leave their homeland and adds some imagined memory to make the novel effective and readable. This novel also reflects Murakami’s life story through the protagonist Toru. He also adds the real memory of his past life in Japan and some imagined memory as well and feels nostalgic in Germany. So, by mixing facts and imagined memories into his narratives, Murakami constructs his characters’ search for identity. The mixture of events from different times and places, told variously through recollection and imagination, raises questions about Murakami’s historical consciousness. How does he view the differentiation between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ in historical accounts?
Memory is both a result of and an influence on perception, attention, and learning. The basic pattern of remembering consists of attention to an event followed by the representation of that event in the brain. Repeated attention, or practice, results in a cumulative effect on memory and enables activities such as a skillful performance on a musical instrument, the recitation of a poem, and reading and understanding words on a page. Learning could not occur without the function of memory. So-called intelligent behavior demands memory, remembering being prerequisite to reasoning. The ability to solve any problem or even to recognize that a problem exists depends on memory. Routine action, such as the decision to cross a street, is based on remembering numerous earlier experiences.
Memories establish a connection between a collective and individual past, between origins, heritage, and history. Those who have left their places of birth to make homes elsewhere are familiar with the question, “Where do you come from?” and respond in innumerable well-rehearsed ways. Diasporas construct racialized, sexualized, gendered, and oppositional subjectivities and shape the cosmopolitan intellectual commitment of scholars. The diasporic individual often has a double consciousness, a privileged knowledge and perspective that is consonant with postmodernity and globalization.
Nostalgia refers to the sentimental yearning for the period of past. Svetlana Boym’s book The Future of Nostalgia traces the emergence of the phenomenon of nostalgia, analyses a series of post communist cities in which nostalgic practices has flourished and finally studies the nostalgic yearning of the Soviet Daispora. Boym begins her introduction by stressing the centrality of space to the concept of nostalgia, Boym says:
As the longing for home, nostalgia is defined as the longing for homes that no longer exist – or never existed. This feeling of loss and fantastical romance was identified in the seventieth century as a curable disease, yet by the late twentieth century had become the incurable modern condition . . . the emergence of nostalgia is associated with various acts of time space distanciation, from the regulation of nation state to globalization. (Qtd. in Leggs 100)
In this way, nostalgia refers to the regretful and wishful memory of the earlier time. It is also shown to be spatial in its expressions as well as causes, and must be investigated using a dual archeology of memory and place, and a dual history of illusions and actual places.
The story opens with Toru’s flight from Japan to Germany. Heis in the Hamburg airport when the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” brought him eighteen years back when he was nineteen. He was deeply in love with Naoko and as they walked through the field together she told him how grateful she was that he had come there to visit her. Then she made him promise never to forget her. It seemed an easy promise to keep but the years have faded his memory. That is why he decided to write this book. In 1960s, College student Toru falls in love with the girlfriend of his (dead) best friend. She eventually becomes ill though not physically ill and has to live under special circumstances, far away from him. While she’s gone, he meets Midori, a college student who obviously is interested in him. But he’s holding out for his girlfriend Naoko. Never knowing if she will recover from her ailment and be able to rejoin him in society, he goes to classes, sells phonograph records at night, and spends some time with Midori. He visits Naoko a few times, gets to know her wacky roommate, and eventually he has to decide between a life with Naoko or with Midori. Thrown in a bizarre Geography, major roommate nicknamed “Storm Trooper,” a scene where Midori badly sings folk songs to Toru while they watch a neighborhood fire from the balcony above her parents’ bookshop, and assorted other hilarious/bizarre characters and passages.
The entire book is a treatise on the power of memories and nostalgia, with Toru reflecting back upon his college days and his young loves. Naoko, too, aware of the power yet vulnerability of memories, begs Toru to keep her memory alive, while memories of Kizuki haunt them both. The book’s atmosphere is also heavily colored by nostalgia for the late 1960s — in music, history, etc. The powerful memories connected to the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” are what set Toru’s narrative flashback into motion at the novel’s start.
Rejecting Japanese literature, art, and music at an early age, Murakami came to identify more and more closely with the world outside Japan, a world he knew only through jazz records, Hollywood movies, and dime-store paperbacks.As a student in Tokyo in the late sixties, Murakami developed a taste for postmodern fiction while looking on, quietly but sympathetically, as the protest movement reached its high-water mark.
Critic Midori Tanaka Atkins finds that most of the critic of Murakami found him as a novelist who intermingle the past reality with the present imagination. In his dissertation,he writes:
Some Japanese literary critics find that Murakami’s works are not easily integrated into the mainstream, in part because of his insistence on experimenting with form. Indeed, Murakami’s earlier novels that are peppered with mentions of global (but mostly American) cultural commodities, his treatment of history, and his protagonists’ fragmented sense of belonging may well fit the definition of the postmodern. (10-11)
In his earlier works, Murakami articulated an individualism and disengagement from society through his self-absorbed protagonists. Atkins further adds:
In these novels, written about ten years after the student movement of the late 1960s, Murakami’s recollection of the counterculture of the period revealed his resigned view and the feeling that all was in the past. Murakami’s resistance against and distrust of Japan and its political establishment can also be seen as a deep undercurrent in these novels. Over the years and particularly after 1995, however, his language has evolved to adopt a more socially conscious tone in the novels that depict protagonists who, while in search of their identity, become proactively engaged with a broader community and in dialogue with Japan’s history. (295)
From the above discussion, we find that Murakami especially incorporates the history of Japanese people and their life in his novel. In an interview with John Wray, Murakami said: “My style, what I think of as my style, is very close to Hard-Boiled Wonderland. I don’t like the realistic style, myself. I prefer a more surrealistic style. But with Norwegian Wood, I made up my mind to write a hundred percent realistic novel. I needed that experience” (34).
Haruki Murakami, from Norwegian Wood has drawn the attention of the numerous scholars and critics since its production and premises in 1987. There are some critics who have proposed that the novel depicts the historical ground realities of the then Japan.BaikJiwoon, in his article “Murakami Haruki and the historical memory of East Asia” says:
Norwegian Wood is a metaphor for the 1960swhere time has stopped. Bob Dylan’s song,‘Blowin’ in the wind’ is consoling for peoplewho sacrificed their lives and passions inthe 1960s. However, the deaths of Haruki’scharacters do not have the force or energy ofDylan’s song. To Haruki, the 1960s representa hole that used to shine a bright lighton the board of time but disappeared intothe darkness. The 1960s is a place wheretime has stopped, and it is a time that isimpossible to be interpreted because it is1.5 billion years away. (68)
Baik criticizes that this is a novel which reflects the ground realities of 1960s and it representsa hole that used to shine a bright lighton the board of time but disappeared intothe darkness. It is also the metaphor for the 1960s as well.
Michael Ferguson focuses his criticism on the characterization of the characters in this novel. He completely disagrees with Murakami on the selection and description of the character. In his criticism, Ferguson writes:
The protagonist, Watanabe, I did not like. He is probably the most well drawn character in the book, but he is a rather colorless, bland personality lacking in drive and direction. He has numerous attractive women who practically throw themselves at him, but he has a hard time bringing himself to engage them sexually, even though they make their willingness obvious, if not blatant. However, he is able to come forth sexually when he accompanies his friend Nagasawa, a Don Juan type character, on pick up excursions to the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. Nagasawa, however, is not well drawn and in my opinion Murakami does not understand this type of person. These sex adventures with Nagasawa don’t really make sense and don’t seem to fit with Watanabe’s rather listless personality. (1)
His criticism especially focuses on the characterization of main character Toru. Ferguson finds that Toru is colorless and bland personality lacking in drive and direction.
Richard McCarthy takes this novel as amasterpiece of the transience of love and life. He finds that it is very difficult to find the hidden fact about any text with a first reading. He writes: “It can be a fallacy to attempt to find a hidden, subconscious meaning in all works of art. Sometimes they are as they are: there is no hidden depth and the surface representation is all that is intended (3).” He furthers adds how he fund the novel Norwegian Wood:
Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is the sort of book which begs to be examined for subtle references, a subtext here and there. On the surface it is the 36 year old Toru Watanabe remembering his student days and being in love with Naoko, the girlfriend of Kizuki, his best friend. When Kizuki dies both Watanabe and Naoko struggle to comprehend what they feel and how they relate to the world. Naoko suffers suicidal depression and Watanabe, despite loving her completely, diverts himself with various women while at a Tokyo university from 1968–71. (2)
He also presents the Naoko’s suffering and cause of her suicide. He also discusses about the knowledge which the book provides to the present youth and their world He further writes:
It is the sort of book which if you are a teenager when you read it, it will speak to you of your misunderstood selves; the pain and misery of unrequited love; and the looming darkness of the future. If you are in your late thirties, like the narrator, then it will remind you of the half-forgotten chances and ‘what-if’s of your own teenage years. (3)
Though many critics have seen and evaluated this novel from different angle and with different lenses. This study is different from the aforementioned critics because it focuses on the memory and nostalgia; which are the tools of diaspora. Norwegian Wood is a novel that reveals the past memory of the people who lived in outside the country.
Diaspora is the major tool to justify the hypothesis. It is a philosophical movement. However, the present researcher studies the novel Norwegian Wood from the point of view of diasporic experience of Haruki Murakami, which has not been yet explore because the protagonist’s predicament is the predicament of the writer himself in his surroundings. Diaspora is a literary phrase coined by Veve Clark in his work “Developing Diaspora Literary and Mass Consciousness”.
The word diaspora comes from a Greek word meaning dispersal and was originally applied to the Jewish people living outsides Palestine with the development of postcolonial theory the term has extended to cover the range of different cultural and ethnic groups held together by shared cultural or religious commitment and having some sense of exile froma place or state of origin and belonging. Thus, diaspora is the shared cultural and religious commitment that binds culturally and ethnically diverse group to a single mainstream culture but with an exile from the origin.
In all cases, the term diaspora carries a sense of displacement; that is, the population so described finds itself for whatever reason separated from its national territory, and usually its people have a hope, or at least a desire, to return to their homeland at some point, if the “homeland” still exists in any meaningful sense.
A diaspora is a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area. The word can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland. The word has come to refer particularly to historical mass dispersions of an involuntary nature, such as the expulsion of Jews from the Middle East. James Clifford coined the pairing of roots and routes to clarify the concept of diaspora to the general reader.“In relation to diaspora, roots are for an attachment to homeland and continuation of identity, while “routes” are for the geographic passages travelled during dispersion. However, these terms can be seen as inklings of the divide between diaspora as bounded and unbounded” (304).
All of these distinguishing characteristics presume that diaspora will be analyzed in terms of identity and studied ethnographically. In 2001, African diaspora historian Kim Butler called for a methodology that examined instead relationships between a diaspora and its homeland and host-land, relations within diaspora communities, and relationships between diaspora communities. He further said:
Diaspora has several standing implications besides its literal meaning, dispersion. It implies that the migration or exile that resulted in dispersal was violent or forcible, that there is a lack of a stable and hospitable homeland, that there are two or more destinations for a single diaspora, and that there is a continuing and self-conscious connection to a real or imagined homeland. (Buttler 193)
So, diaspora is a combination of memory of the past and nostalgia after detaching from own homeland. It also includes the imagined homeland in the foreign territory. They feel alien in foreign world and culture due to host country’s native treatment. Host country never treats them as equal human being rather as marginal people and finally diasporic people feel their position as marginalized and inferiorized in the foreign world. Thus, Diaspora has several standing implications besides its literal meaning, dispersion.
Murakami also asserts his sense of socialresponsibility as an author who explores the theme of connectedness between the past,present and future through his protagonists’ self-search in his novels.Violence is portrayed aplenty, whether psychological, physical, in private or inthe public realm, in Murakami’s novels and stories. Murakami continually interjectsintimations of his distrust of the Japanese political system by portraying violent eventspast and present, thereby reminding us of the sort of crimes that individuals and nationsare capable of committing. In Murakami’s earlier works, the protagonists’ sense of lossand nostalgia reveal an acute awareness of history, yet this consciousness is expressedironically in that the narration typically flouts historicity, and the protagonist is typicallyflippant and existentialistic.
This novel Norwegian Woodis about love, death, youth, friendship, and ultimately, how fragile and delicate humans are, and how much we seek protection from this fragility in the arms of others or in our own private prisons. Toru Watanabe, the protagonist, locks himself in a prison of solitude, which he eventually escapes, with difficulty, only through the death of a close friend/lover and the realization that he is basically alone in the world. This realization forces him to come to terms with his feelings for a woman who challenges his cold side while simultaneously acknowledging his softer side via her own need for companionship, understanding, and love.
The research is textual. The wide trace of material pertaining to Diaspora theories has been used as the theoretical tools. It does not offer overall theoretical perspective of Diaspora, though this research primarily uses the theory of “memory and nostalgia” discussed by Stephen Leggs and Stuart Halls’s “Cultural Identity and Diaspora” and other related theories as a theoretical basis. In addition to it, library consultation and wide ranges of reference material will be valuable guiding sources. Regular library visit and consulting internet website along with the guidance from the professors and the lecturers has been further inspiration to bring the thesis into its complete shape.
This research has been divided into three chapters. The first chapter presents an introductory outlines of this novel’s raising issues, its problem, and a short history of Haruki Murakami along with the critique on Norwegian Wood by different critics. Moreover, it gives a bird’s eye view of the entire works. The second chapter analyses the novel Norwegian Wood by highlighting the experience of Murakami as a migrated person in Germany from Japan. This chapter also explores the memory and nostalgia are the elements of daisporic experience of migrated people. So this chapter tries to prove the hypothesis of the study – in Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami explores the issues of his past life in his homeland and feeling nostalgia in the present days in the foreign land as a migrated person. Thus, in this part, the present research proves that memory and nostalgia are the element of diaspora. Finally, the fourth chapter sums up the main point of the present research and finding of the researcher.
II. Memory and Nostalgia: The Diasporic Element in Norwegian Wood
In general, Diaspora studies race and ethnicity to describe a range of cultural affiliation connecting with other groups who have been dispersed across national boundaries though there are different forms of diaspora in the present world. The author finds a common element in all forms of diaspora; there are people who live outside their natal or imagined natal territories and recognize that their traditional homeland are reflected deeply in the languages they speak, religion they adapt, and culture they produce. Moreover, the memory and nostalgia also deeply haunt them and feel lonely and isolated in the new territory. In this novel Norwegian Wood too, Toru, the protagonist, has migrated from his home country Japan to Germany. He has landed in the airport of Germany and remembers his past life in Japan and Japanese university. His feelings from his own homeland make him nostalgic and try to get rid of from it.
Murakami wrote the book Norwegian Wood in the different places in Japan and his experiences in the homeland but expressed his grief and nostalgia of life from the viewpoint of young people who settled himself in the German territory. Toru becomes the representative character of Murakami’s personal life. Murakami especially collects his personal experiences from the Japanese university and feels nostalgic in the present period by remembering those incidents and college activities with his past friends.
First published in 1987, Norwegian Wood is HarukiMurikami’s fifth novel. It is a coming of age love story set in and around Tokyo at the end of the 1960s. The novel is a departure from Murakami’s earlier surrealist style in favor of a realistic story line centered on a teenager’s search for personal identity and love. Identity is the issue related with the diaspora as well. In simplest term, Toru search his identity in the absurd world via struggling in the different stages of life. But in reality, he searches his identity in the foreign land a diaporic guy. The remembrance of his past life in his own homeland leads him that he is in identity crisis.
Toru, the protagonist was in the Hamburg airport when the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” brought him back to that field eighteen years ago when he was nineteen. He was deeply in love with Naoko and as they walked through the field together she told him how grateful she was that he had come there to visit her. Then she made him promise never to forget her. It seemed an easy promise to keep but the years have faded his memory. That is why He decided to write this book.
I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth, lending everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in waterproofs, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So – Germany again. (5)
These are the beginning lines of the novel. Toru, the protagonist was in the Hamburg airport when the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” brought him back to that field eighteen years ago when he was nineteen. The word second times refers that Toru lives in Germany in the present time and just now he reaches in his dream land Germany. The Beatle song helps to remind his past life in Japan.
Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever. I bent forward, my face in my hands to keep my skull from splitting open. (5)
The foreign soil and environment do not preserve the native culture of any people and when people entered in foreign territory, then the native culture, environment and social norms and values always haunt. Toru’s entrance in Germany gives the same hints that when he was landed in foreign territory, the Beatle song from Japan touches his heart and he starts to feel loneliness in the foreign land. This song compelled to him to remember his past life in his motherland. So, this song becomes the catalyst for the diasporic element in this novel Norwegian Wood.
Immigration is the most crucial element behind the concept of diasporic, so the concept of diaspora first originated through emigration but later on it developed into the form of its other extensive discourses like post colonialism, nationalism, hybridity, multiculturalism. Its concept has been derived from that of dispersal experiences of the ancient Jewish people of Israel in the sixth century B C, although in the present context, it has come to merge into the postcolonial theory. An Indian critic Sudhir Kumar points out about diasporic condition and experience in this way:
The diasporic consciousness, as some critic ever, presupposed the predominance of such feelings as alienation, dispersal, longing for the ancestral homeland, a double identification with the original homeland and the adopted country, identity crisis, remembering myths related to the homeland, protest against discrimination of all sorts in a new land etc. the metaphor of imaginary homelands does cum up the conditions of the diasporic communities well. (7)
Diasporic writing especially focuses on issues of migrant people. It is an outcome of their experience; the experiences which basically tells us stories of their lives, within their immigrants background. As immigrants resettle in the foreign lands, things do not seem easy to them because in the new horizon, they have faced a new scenario which is different from their own homeland. They find difficulties to adjust themselves in the culture, language, religion, customs, etc. and others. They feel the sense of loss and sense of self less identity. The migrated writers get their self identity through writing. Their writings are the secure places to express their origin and target culture, which used to give them perfect identity.
Memory as a DiasporicElement
Memories establish a connection between a collective and individual past, between origins, heritage, and history. Diasporas construct racialized, sexualized, gendered, and oppositional subjectivities and shape the cosmopolitan intellectual commitment of scholars. The diasporic individual often has a double consciousness, a privileged knowledge and perspective that is consonant with postmodernity and globalization.
Toru, the protagonist of the novel, migrated from his homeland Japan to the new land Germany. Toru does not directly reflect his experiences in the new land but his remembrances his past childhood life in Japan and felt nostalgia are the great evidences that his immigration is not good for himself and lead him as a diaspora. The following lines provide the evidences from the Norwegian Wood:
Eighteen years have gone by, and still I can bring back every detail ofthat day in the meadow. Washed clean of summer’s dust by days ofgentle rain, the mountains wore a deep, brilliant green. The Octoberbreeze set white fronds of head-high grasses swaying. One long streakof cloud hung pasted across a dome of frozen blue. It almost hurt tolook at that far-off sky.(6)
He remembers his life eighteen years ago in Japan. He also remembers the weather and climate and the other social, natural environment in Japan and felt nostalgic. The description of the environment in Japan from Germany is the enough evidences that the novel is a diasporic novel from the viewpoint of memory and nostalgia are the diasporic element.
People in diaspora are culturally displaced and forces into exile accepting plural and partial identity. They are always haunted by the sense of loss and rootlesssness. For them, diasporic experiences are constantly producing and reproducing them a new through transformation and differences for critiques, it is a tool to study into the dispersed intellectual formation. There lies a difficulty in coming to terms with diaspora and as such. It introduces conceptual categories to display the variety of meaning in the word involves. Roben Cohen clarifies diaspora as victim diaspora, labor diaspora, imperial diaspora, trade diaspora, homeland diaspora and cultural diaspora.
Haruki Murakami finds a common element in all forms of Diaspora. There are people who live outside their nation or imagined national territory and recognize their traditional homeland are reflected deeply in the language they speak, religion they adopt, and culture they produce. Haruki Murakami is a Japanese diasporic writer. He tries to explore experiences and conditions of a diasporic people who voluntarily and forcibly leave their homeland into foreign land in his novels. He tries to capture the socio-political factors behind a person’s diasporic condition.
Murakarmi has expressed his marginal status in Norwegian Wood. This happens due to the migrated people’s difficulty in the new land. He deals with the diasporic elements mainly focusing on memory, nostalgia, sense of loss and cultural identity etc. so there is no doubt that Murakami is a diasporic writer who had himself experienced the diasporic condition while living in Germany as a writer. Murakami has tried to recover his sense of loss and displacement through his novels. As a diasporic writer, he has used his memory what he experienced in his childhood in homeland Japan and feels nostalgia in Germany in the novel Norwegian wood. So, the present researcher claims that Murakami has used memory and nostalgia are the powerful tools to strengthen Murakami’s memories of homeland Japan.
This case is not only of Toru but also all diasporic people like Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie as a diasporic writer reflects his past life in India while living in England. He has depicted the postcolonial scenario in his essay and reflected the politicizing ideas and technique in literature religion and culture. He seeks the memories of past in the homeland life. He exposes his identity, alienation and nostalgic event in the Imaginary Homelands in this way:
A few years ago, I revised Bombay, which is my last city, after an absence of something like half my life. Shortly after arriving acting on an impulse, I opened the telephone directory and looked father’s name and imaginably there it was; his name, our old address, the unchanged telephone number, as if we had never gone a way to the unmentionable country across the border. . . then I went to visit the house in the photography and stood outside it. (9)
Rushdie’s above lines clearly proves that diasporic people cannot forget his or her homeland even after being outside. It makes clear that a person can be taken outside from his homeland but not his mind. Diasporic people love everything belonging to his or her homeland like food, people and languages.
Murakami has used memory as a powerful tool to give an escape to Toru’s diasporic pain. Most of the diasporicwriters such as Salman Rushdie have used memory as a tool to save oneself the feeling of displacement and nostalgia. Murakami like other diasporic writer has experienced the sense of loss of his real homeland and as a solace to his disjoined self. He has written this novel with the help of memory. The following lines by Toru in the novel Norwegian Wood are enough evidence to prove above mentioned description:
Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene I hardly paid it any attention. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that 18 years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again. I was at that age, that time of life when every sight, every feeling, every thought came back, like a boomerang, to me. (6)
According to Rushdie, memory plays an important role for exiled writers. The memory is the only means that connects them with their native lands. It works as raw materials. Although memories are fragmented like broken mirror, but remained memory have greater statue and resonance for the diasporic writer.
Murakami has explored diasporic experience of Toru through his recollection of his past life in Japan like Rushdie. Toru does not forget his childhood experience. He may remember his childhood experience even in Japan but his stay in Germany made him compelled to remember all the evidences in Japan. The entire book is a treatise on the power of memories and nostalgia, with Toru reflecting back upon his college days and his young loves. Naoko, too, aware of the power yet vulnerability of memories, begs Toru to keep her memory alive, while memories of Kizuki haunt them both. The book’s atmosphere is also heavily colored by nostalgia for the late 1960s — in music, history, etc. The powerful memories connected to the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” are what set Toru’s narrative flashback into motion at the novel’s start.
Eighteen years have gone by, and still I can bring back every detail of that day in the meadow. Washed clean of summer’s dust by days of gentle rain, the mountains wore a deep, brilliant green. The October breeze set white fronds of head-high grasses swaying. One long streak of cloud hung pasted across a dome of frozen blue. It almost hurt to look at that far-off sky. A puff of wind swept across the meadow and through her hair before it slipped into the woods to rustle branches and send back snatches of distant barking – a hazy sound that seemed to reach us from the doorway to another world. We heard no other sounds. We met no other people. We saw only two bright red birds leap startled from the centre of the meadow and dart into the woods. As we ambled along, Naoko spoke to me of wells.’ (6)
Toru remembers his past life in Japan and love with Naoko. He himself said that memory is a funny thing which sometimes leads people towards the happiness and some other times lead towards the nostalgia. The above mentioned paragraph is the evidence that the memory of past event leads to the sorrowful moment. He compares his life in Germany and Japan and feels better life he had spent in his better life in Japan than Germany. Even though he lives his hometown in search of better life and settled down in Germany.
Toru remembers his first day when he has met with his girlfriend Naoko in the school. And he felt nostalgic by remembering his days in Japanese school and colleges with his best friend and especially days with Naoko as her boyfriend. He remembers:
I first met Naoko when I was in the sixth-form at school. She was also in the sixth-form at a posh girls’ school run by one of the Christian missions. The school was so refined you were considered unrefined if you studied too much. Naoko was the girlfriend of my best (and only) friend, Kizuki. The two of them had been close almost from birth, their houses not 200 yards apart. (27)
His meeting of Naoko leads his life towards the newness. He is deeply in love with Naoko and as they walk through the field together she told him how grateful she is that he has come there to visit her. Then she made him promise never to forget her. It seemed an easy promise to keep but the years have faded his memory. That is why He decided to write this book. He loved Naoko completely then, but it took him years to realize that she never loved him. In 1968, he was alone in Tokyo for the first time, starting college. His parents rented a room in a private dormitory that he shared with hundreds of other students. He writes: “Once upon a time, many years ago – just 20 years ago, in fact – I was living in a dormitory. I was 18 and a first-year student. I was new to Tokyo and new to living alone, and so my anxious parents found a private dorm for me to live in rather than the kind of single room that most students took” (14).
He would have preferred an apartment, but he didnot really care and ended up staying in the dorm for two years. Although the men’s dorm was invariably a disaster area, his roommate was clean crazy so he never lived in filth. During his first month in college he ran into Naoko by chance. They hadnot seen each other in over a year so they decided to spend some time together. She had been his best friend Kizuki’s girlfriend. Although the three of them were always together, Naoko and he had never really been close. Neither of them ever had much to say to each other. But they had that common bond. Plus she looked much prettier than he remembered. They didnot talk much that day, but they agreed to meet again the following Sunday. Then their life takes a new turn and does a lot of things. He said: “A lot happened in late January and February that year, 1969 (44). Never knowing if she will recover from her ailment and be able to rejoin him in society, he goes to classes, sells phonograph records at night, and spends some time with Midori. He visits Naoko a few times, gets to know her wacky roommate, and eventually he has to decide between a life with Naoko or with Midori. Throw in a bizarre Geography-major roommate nicknamed “Storm Trooper,” a scene where Midori badly sings folk songs to Toru while they watch a neighborhood fire from the balcony above her parents’ bookshop, and assorted other hilarious/bizarre characters and passages.
Kizuki had killed himself and his memory hung over their time together. He had been the last person to see him alive and he had killed himself after a night of playing pool together. He didnot see it coming and no one else did either. Maybe as a solace to each other and maybe as an honor to his memory, Naoko and Toru started seeing each other every Sunday. It quickly became apparent that both of them were trying to separate themselves from the past. Invariably, they would take long walks around the city with no destination in mind. They never had much to say to each other but they slowly became comfortable in each other’s presence. Over the following months things moved on to affection, but not romance. He soon became best friends with Nagasawa because they were the only two people they knew who had read The Great Gatsby. He was two years senior, he was breezing through the top university, and he had a heavy dose of charisma. He probably kept Toru as a friend because he didn’t idolize him like everyone else. All the same, things were easier for Toru because of him. Other students respected Toru more and women were easier to get. Toru remembers the books what he had read in his college life:
At 18 my favorite book was John Updike’s The Centaur, but after I had read it a number of times, it began to lose some of its initial luster and yielded first place to The Great Gatsby. Gatsby stayed in first place for a long time after that. I would pull it off the shelf when the mood hit me and read a section at random. It never once disappointed me. There wasn’t a boring page in the whole book. I wanted to tell people what a wonderful novel it was, but no one around me had read The Great Gatsby or was likely to. Urging others to read F Scott Fitzgerald, although not a reactionary act, was not something one could do in 1968. (36-37)
Toru never forget his days in Japan while staying in Germany and haunt by it. It finally leads him nostalgic. He further adds that he never forget the meadow scene and favorable environment for him in Japan. “Meadow scene is the first thing that comes back to me. The smell of the grass, the faint chill of the wind, the line of the hills, the barking of a dog: these are the first things and they come with absolute clarity” (7).
The past memory of Toru is highly reflected in this novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Toru’s arrival in Germany made himself lonely and remember his stay in Japan with friends whether it was enjoyable or painful. In this way, the past memory of Toru is highly reflected in this novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Toru’s arrival in Germany made himself lonely and remember his stay in Japan with friends whether it was enjoyable or painful.
In this connection, Friedrich Nietzsche defines the nostalgia is the past event which changes the individual and national perspectives. He writes: “the things of the past are never viewed in their true perspective or receive their just value, but value and perspective change with the individual or the nation that is looking back on its past” (1).
Nostalgia has always been a useful compensatory tool to construct an alternative historical reality created by the images of the golden past, especially when there is discontent with the present socio-economic situation in any culture. Just like governing bodies, modern global corporations also use nostalgia to advertise their commodities by relating either their products or companies to a more desirable time in the past. By implanting modified images in the prospective clients’ minds, such advertising strategies rewrite history through forged memories about the good old days when prices were more reasonable, goods more durable, and services were more satisfactory.
As Dylan Trigg, the author of The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason, “nostalgia demands . . . the fixation of the past . . . . Thus, both static images – memories – and lived experience – place – serve as homogenous platforms for the nostalgic conscious to impose and identify itself” (1). Both memory and nostalgia, then, have always had some spatial and territorial connotations, whether real or ideal, either in some negative or positive sense.
Norwegian Wood is primarily about nostalgia and sexuality in the rapidly changing world of 1960s Tokyo. Its protagonist Toru Watanabe is a young drama student at a private university who after an opportune meeting with Naoko, the ex-girlfriend of his best friend, Kizuki, who killed himself at seventeen, embarks on a series of complex relationships that ultimately allow him to finally fully mourn the death of his friend.
Naoko, also a first year university student, is haunted by her memories of Kizuki, his suicide and that also of her sister. The reasons for their suicides are never truly explained, but put down to a rather vague inability to face the world after school. A few months into her degree Naoko finds she cannot cope with the world and her confusing feelings for Watanabe, she flees Tokyo to attend an alternative retreat for those struggling with mental illness.
In her absence Watanabe meets and befriends Midori, also a drama student, and begins spending his previously lonely Sundays with her. As his friendship with Midori deepens, Watanabe continues to pursue Naoko, visiting her and planning a future with her once ‘she’s well’.
In this novel Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami presents the past memory always haunt to the people who leave their homeland and stay in foreign land:
Even so, my memory has grown increasingly dim, and I have already forgotten any number of things. Writing from memory like this, I often feel a pang of dread. What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud? Be that as it may, it’s all I have to work with. Clutching these faded, fading, imperfect memories to my breast, I go on writing this book with all the desperate intensity of a starving man sucking on bones. This is the only way I know to keep my promise to Naoko. (13)
There is the continual motif of letting things go, of release either by choice or through death. And that even death itself must eventually be gotten over: the dead released to death and the living released from the memory of the dead. It’s setting in Tokyo in 1968 is also significant. This is post-war Japan which has seemingly come to terms with defeat. But there is an undercurrent which suggests otherwise. The student protests of that year are beset by sporadic violence from ‘right-wing types’ as Watanabe puts it. Murakami himself makes his own political stance known through the narrative ordering; at the opening of Chapter four have this: “During the summer holidays the university called in the riot police. They broke down the barricades and arrested the students inside” (61).
The emotional side of Norwegian Wood is the effort to let go of things. Kizuki’s death in the first chapter has repercussions which echo throughout the book, with both Watanabe and Naoko struggling to deal with it in their own ways. Murakami writes several scenes which directly show the moment of release and the difficulty of moving on. The most moving of these is the moment when Watanabe is given a firefly and he decides to let it go:
Still leaning against the handrail, I studied the firefly. Neither I nor it made a move for a very long time. The wind continued sweeping past the two of us while the numberless leaves of the zelkova tree rustled in the darkness.
I waited forever.
. . .
Long after the firefly had disappeared, the trail of its light remained inside me, its pale, faint glow hovering on and on in the thick darkness behind my eyelids like a lost soul.
More than once I tried stretching my hand out in the dark. My fingers touched nothing. The faint glow remained, just beyond my grasp. (59-60)
Ultimately Watanabe continues to carry the memory of all that has happened, never able to let it rest completely. We meet him as he enters the memory of that day in the field and he maybe never exits. The opening sequence set in the contemporary world of 1986 is not directly referred to again. He does mention snippets of his life after university but these would total no more than a page or two. When the book ends the reader is not taken back to the 36 yr old Watanabe, arriving by plane into Hamburg: Watanabe remains lost, still dreaming of the girl in his memory, walking through the same field, talking about wells.
Toruis a nice guy – he wants and desires Naoko and Midori (and women in general) but he also doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He grows increasingly uncomfortable with meaningless sex, and he struggles to be whatever Naoko and Midori need him to be. This leaves him trapped in an escalating triangle, and clearly at some point he’s going to have to make a choice. Murakami writes:
I read Naoko’s letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with that same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko herself stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it. Objects in the scene would drift past me, but the words they spoke never reached my ears. (56)
His continual reading of Naoko’s letter always haunts him by remembering his relation with her. In reality, Naoko does not love her first but Toru try to change his affection towards her in love relation finally he was succeed but later it become more tragic and their relations did not go straightforward. He lobbies more at first and took her in the café and play baseball together. Murakami writes:
I continued to spend my Saturday nights in the lobby… I would switch on the baseball game and pretend to watch it as I cut the empty space between me and the television set in two, then cut each half in two again, over and over, until I had fashioned a space small enough to hold in my hand. (56)
Although nostalgia is inherent in the ‘remembrance’ mode through which the novel considers the narrator’s past, little emotion can be detected in the dry tone of his discourse. Georgia Lagoumitzi in his “The Uses of Nostalgia in the ‘Imagination’ of Diaspora: The Case of the New Pontic Greek Refugees” says:
Nostalgia, it is not the past that invades the present, but the contrary, that is, nostalgia acquires its social character by the very fact that it incorporates elements of the present. Further, through nostalgia the irreversibility of time is transcended. Nostalgia epitomizes for the individual escape and freedom from the constraint of time. This transcendence embodies freedom, defined here as nonidentity, since the home which is recalled nostalgically is not a recollection but instead an imaginative reconstruction, not recuperation but an incessant search. Because individuals indulge their feelings of nostalgia only intermittently, they remain in touch with present reality‘. Finally, nostalgia allows evasion from the coercion of social bonds by finding a home outside of the logic of the ordered totality of the nation. (1)
Lagoumitzi finds that nostalgia epitomizes for the individual escape and freedom from the constraint of time. This transcendence embodies freedom, defined here as nonidentity, since the home which is recalled nostalgically is not a recollection but instead an imaginative reconstruction, not recuperation but an incessant search.
The novel Norwegian wood is narrated in retrospect; it is told from the perspective of Toru Watanabe as a way for him at 37 to remember and understand that particular period in his life, “Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I’m made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them” (4). Music is a fundamental trigger in memory, indeed the compunction to write the story, to remember and understand, is triggered by a “sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” (1) played on the speakers of an aeroplane in Hamburg.
Many of the characters and scenes in the novel are associated with music. Remembering the past, Toru seems to associate music with particular places and people. The music is not dispersed randomly throughout the novel but is associated with certain times, people and places. I will attempt to analyze the music associated with the main characters in the novel and investigate the relevance of the music chosen by Murakami, whether the songs add an extra dimension to the narrative or provide the reader with insight into the characters.
Apart from the memory triggered by the Beatles song Norwegian Wood at the beginning of the novel, the first mention of music associated with Naoko is the Henry Mancini album, Dear Heart and Other Songs About Love, released in 1964, which Toru gives her as a Christmas present. The album contains one of her favourite songs, “Dear Heart”, about someone who is lonely, missing their beloved with whom they long to be reunited. There is a sadness of loss in the song which reflects Naoko’s sadness and loss. Naoko sings:
Dear heart, wish you were here
To warm this night
My dear heart, it seems like a year,
Since you’ve been out of sight. (236)
But Naoko’s beloved, her ex-boyfriend Kizuki, is dead, and the only way for them to be reunited is for her to die. Taken from this perspective the song is foreboding, a premonition of her longing for death and final reunion with Kizuki. The lyrics are all the more profound because it has been a year since Kizuki committed suicide.
Forests and woods serve as a symbol of the confusion, beauty and loneliness of life, in which the characters are sometimes lost and sometimes find peace and comfort. Toru and Naoko take many pleasant woodland walks but she also chooses to hang herself deep in the woods. The translation of the novel’s title is a play-on-words of the idea of “wood.”
The title of the novel in Japanese is Noruwei no moriwhich translates literally as “a forest in Norway” or “Norwegian woods” (Rubin 149). This may explain Naoko’s interpretation of the song when she tells Toru that she imagines walking all alone in a cold forest “that song can make me feel so sad. I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me” (143). The forest is a potent and negative symbol throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story when Toru’s memory is first stimulated by the song on the plane, he remembers walking with Naoko, first in a meadow but then they walk “through the frightful silence of a pine forest . . . as if searching for something we’d lost, Naoko and I continued slowly along the path” (8). The pine forest is described as frightful, it’s a beautiful day and yet the forest if frightful. Toru and Naoko are of course connected by the loss of Kizuki. It is standing in that forest that Toru promises never to forget Naoko, following her plaintive plea to be remembered. “I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood here next to you like this?” (9). It is his promise to remember her in that frightful forest that compels Toru to write about Naoko, to remember her “this is the only way I know to keep my promise to Naoko” (10).
Toru is viewing these events from a distance, and with the wisdom and knowledge of someone who has had years to reflect. A twenty-year-old wouldn’t say things like:
I felt a kind of loneliness that was new to me, as if I were the only one here who was not truly part of the scene. Come to think of it, what scene had I been part of in recent years? The last one I could remember was in a billiards parlor near the harbor, where Kizuki and I shot pool together in a mood of total friendship. Kizuki died that night, and ever since then a cold, stiffening wind had come between me and the world. This boy Kizuki: what had his existence meant to me? To this question I could find no answer. All I knew – with absolute certainty – was that Kizuki’s death had robbed me forever of a part of my adolescence. But what that meant, and what would come from it, were far beyond my understanding. (59)
Toru, like Mitchell in The Marriage Plot, is a nice guy – he wants and desires Naoko and Midori (and women in general) but he also doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He grows increasingly uncomfortable with meaningless sex, and he struggles to be whatever Naoko and Midori need him to be. This leaves him trapped in an escalating triangle, and clearly at some point he’s going to have to make a choice. Toru always remembers Naoko all of the time and to remove from her remembrance, he read letter sent by Naoko to him. He writes:
I read Naoko’s letter again and again, and each time I read it I would be filled with that same unbearable sadness I used to feel whenever Naoko herself stared into my eyes. I had no way to deal with it, no place I could take it to or hide it away. Like the wind passing over my body, it had neither shape nor weight, nor could I wrap myself in it. Objects in the scene would drift past me, but the words they spoke never reached my ears.I continued to spend my Saturday nights in the lobby… I would switch on the baseball game and pretend to watch it as I cut the empty space between me and the television set in two, then cut each half in two again, over and over, until I had fashioned a space small enough to hold in my hand. (88)
By mixing facts and imagined memories into his narratives, Murakami constructs his characters’ search for identity. The mixture of events from different times and places, told variously through recollection and imagination, raises questions about Murakami’s historical consciousness. How does he view the differentiation between ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ in historical accounts? The comment below from the novel’s narrator, Tōru, gives us some clues. He reads Cinnamon’s story entitled ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’ and reflects on the truthfulness and meaning of the account:
I had no way to judge what was real in this story. I don’t know whether everything in Cinnamon’s story is pure literary creation or whether some parts actually happened. His mother, Nutmeg, told me that the veterinary surgeon’s whereabouts are ‘completely unknown’. So, it’s almost certain that there is no chance that every part of the story is real. But it’s possible that some details are historical facts. It is possible that during the chaotic period some students from the Manchurian military schools were executed in the Changchun zoo had their bodies buried there, and the Japanese officer who commanded the killing was later executed. The Manchurian National Army soldiers’ rebellion and escape were not rare occurrences then […]. It is very plausible that Cinnamon learned of such an incident and created his story by placing the [imagined] figure of his grandfather there. (157)
In this way, Toru searches for identity lead him towards the foreign land and loneliess and isolation as well. In reality, these entire incidents reflect the diasporic identity of Toru. The death of his friends and betrayal relationship with others also reflect the isolation and loneliness to Toru. So, most of the critics try to see this novel from existential point of view.
Inexplicable, shocking suicides of young people happen throughout the novel. Notable characters who commit suicide include Naoko, Hatsumi, Kizuki and Naoko’s elder sister, all of whom don’t seem to have any particular reasoning behind their suicides. Midori is also left an orphan due to her parents’ illnesses and deaths. Though Reiko’s family is still alive, she is completely out of touch with them and so she is essentially dead to her husband and daughter, too. Because of the strong presence of death throughout the book, grief also forms a major theme, as each character is left to deal with loss of loved ones in their own ways. Toru in particular comes to learn that the sorrow of loss is not easily moved past.
Norwegian Wood is often called autobiographical novel though Murakami himself rejects that this novel is in reality a love story and not an autobiography. Once, Murakami writes:
I set Norwegian Wood in the late 1960s. I borrowed the details of the protagonist’s university environment and daily life from those of my own student days. As a result, many people think it is an autobiographical novel, but in fact it is not autobiographical at all. My own youth was far less dramatic, far more boring than his. If I had simply written the literal truth of my own life. (352)
Finally, Toru knew that people were staring but he didn’t care. They were alive and all they needed to think about was continuing to live. He called Midori and told her that he had a million things he wanted to talk to her about. He wanted to start from the beginning. After a long silence, she asked, “Where are you now?” (350). Toru has no answer so he replies:
Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the phone box. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again I called out for Midori from the dead centre of this place that was no place.(351)
The condition of Toru is highly diasporic because he is dilemma and his identity is in crisis due to his triangular love relation as well as his escape from reality as well as places.
Every man believes that individual and collective memory leads one to face identity crisis. Saul Bellow writes that individual memory is something that “goes on inside the head of the individual human being. Similarly, that memory is collective in supra individual and individual memory is always conceived in relation to a group.” (65).
At last but not the least, the entire book is a treatise on the power of memories and nostalgia, with Toru reflecting back upon his college days and his young loves. Naoko, too, aware of the power yet vulnerability of memories, begs Toru to keep her memory alive, while memories of Kizuki haunt them both. The book’s atmosphere is also heavily colored by nostalgia for the late 1960s — in music, history, etc. The powerful memories connected to the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood” are what set Toru’s narrative flashback into motion at the novel’s start. So, this is a novel full with memory and nostalgia.
III. Nostalgia through Memory in Norwegin Wood
After the discussion and analysis of Haruki Murakami’s novel, Norwegian Wood, the researcher reaches the conclusion that Toru, the protagonist of this novel tries to escape from his unsuccessful love relation in human life and get frustrated from life so finally he wants to get rid out from his loneliness. This eager desire of him leads to the foreign land Germany from his birthplace Japan. Though, all of his efforts for relief from pain go in vain. More than that, his landed in foreign land added more pain to him. His first heard of Japanese music in Germany leads him towards his college life in Japan.
People felt diaporic when they settle in foreign world and compelled to accept foreign culture and host country’s maltreatment. Host country never treats them as equal human being rather as marginal people and finally diasporic feeling their position as marginalized and inferiorized in foreign world. Finally, they try to search their identity and culture in foreign land. But they only get hybrid identity and unable to feel as comfortable as in their homeland. When diasporic dream shatters and they find their position as marginal in foreign land, they are obliged to create imaginary homeland through memory and feel nostalgic in foreign land.
Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood strongly portrays its protagonist, Toru Watanabe, to be a diasporic character because of his Japanese root and live stay in Germany. His arrival in Germany from his homeland provides the sense of diaspora to its reader that he explains that he repeatedly visited his homeland to recover himself from diasporic pain. When he landed him in Germany, he heard a Japanese music and which music took him in his past childhood life in Japan and college days. He recites the story then. It’s the late 1960’s. College student Toru falls in love with the girlfriend of his dead best friend. She eventually becomes ill, though not physically ill, and has to leave to live under special circumstances, far away from him. While she’s gone, he meets Midori, a college student who obviously is interested in him. But he’s holding out for his girlfriend Naoko. Never knowing if she will recover from her ailment and be able to rejoin him in society, he goes to classes, sells phonograph records at night, and spends some time with Midori. He visits Naoko a few times, gets to know her wacky roommate Reiki, and eventually he has to decide between a life with Naoko or with Midori. Throw in a bizarre Geography-major roommate nicknamed Storm Trooper, a scene where Midori (badly) sings folk songs to Toru while they watch a neighborhood fire from the balcony above her parents’ bookshop, and assorted other hilarious/bizarre characters and passages, and the researcher got vintage Haruki Murakami.
The foreign soil and environment do not preserve the native culture of any people and when people entered in foreign territory, then the native culture, environment and social norms and values always haunt. Then, people feel loneliness and crisis of his own social and cultural identity. So, nostalgia becomes the way to relief from such pain. Nostalgia has always been a useful compensatory tool to construct an alternative historical reality created by the images of the golden past, especially when there is discontent with the present socio-economic situation in any culture. Just like governing bodies, modern global corporations also use nostalgia to advertise their commodities by relating either their products or companies to a more desirable time in the past.
Toru Watanabe feels that his arrival in Germany is bad enough for him because he remembers his past life in Japan when he was landed in German airport. He feels nostalgic when he heard the Norwegian wood in airport and remembers his whole past story in flashback technique. This is the enough evidence that his stay in Germany does not become so much fruitful as his expectation. Finally, the conclusion is that the memory of past events of someone leads him or her towards the pain and felt loneliness. More than that, this may happen in diasporic people. Diaspora has many facets and elements. Memory of past event in homeland and felt nostalgic in foreign land is taken as a basic element in diasporic novel. Same thing happen in this novel Norwegian Wood. So, this is a diasporic novel from the viewpoint of diasporic elements especially memory and nostalgia.
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