“Kafka on the Shore”: References to Franz Kafka

Kafka on the Shore is generally categorized into the genre of “magical realism”, which is defined as a blend of fantastical elements exposed into a natural, otherwise normal environment. The novel has a dream-like perception , and vibrates feelings of cafard, solidarity, and nostalgia which is consistent with several of the novels written by Haruki Murakami, the author of Kafka on the Shore. There is often a common theme of displacement, surreality and a blurred existentiality. In the novel Kafka on the shore, Murakami uses several unusual resources in his novel such as themes and intertextuality in order to explore the concept of identity within his writing. The author reveals the the inner darkness of the nature of his characters through the showcasing of the relationship between dreams and reality and the concept of destiny linked to the idea of lack of control. He looks through the unconscious parts of an individual which have a significant impact in his writings for the purpose of the building of the characters fate. All of this creates a significantly blurred line between the concepts of thought and actions.

In Kafka on the Shore, a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, decides to run away from home to escape his father and with an extra mission to search for his long-missing mother and sister, which seems to always be on his mind. An aging man called Nakata, who never completely recovered from an incident in his youth, is abstractly pushed toward Kafka for reason that neither Kafka nor Nakata can fully understand. Their separate journeys, as strange as they already may be, are added onto through the story by intense characters and mysterious events. Cats and people carry on conversations, an utterly surreal metaphysical colonel sanders, and rains of fish fall from the sky.

Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto in 1949. Kafka on the shore was published first in 2002, and then it was translated into english in 2005. Kafka on the Shore was an international success and was eventually translated into 38 languages. Murakami did not begin writing until he was 29, after owning a jazz bar. Franz Kafka was one of Murakami’s favorite writers, and he made references to Franz Kafka’s fictional world and ideas many different times in his literature. Murakami once said in an interview referring to Kafka on the Shore ‘When I wrote about the boy, I could remember how it was when I was fifteen years old. I think memory is the most important asset of human beings. It’s a kind of fuel; it burns and it warms you. My memory is like a chest: There are so many drawers in that chest, and when I want to be a fifteen-year-old boy, I open up a certain drawer and I find the scenery I saw when I was a boy in Kobe. I can smell the air, and I can touch the ground, and I can see the green of the trees. That’s why I want to write a book.’ (Murakami) This is essential to understanding why he wrote Kafka on the Shore and gives context to why he chose the main character to run away at age fifteen.

Memory is a recurrent theme in the novel, and Murakami uses a few major settings in the story to smooth the passing of time and make reference to the past. The best example of this is Kafka’s quarters within in the library. The room he is given used to belong to Miss Saeki’s dead lover and is full of memory. In his first visit to the room, the room is described as a fusion of personal possessions, complete with the a portrait of the previous owner, as well as a record titled “Kafka on the shore”, written and sung by Miss Saeki herself. In this setting, Kafka is transported back in time at night. During these experiences, he has many visions and interacts with the 15-year-old Miss Saeki. He lays awake at night to wait for her, and the room becomes a literal portal into the past for many of the characters in the novel.

The settings and spaces that Murakami develops in the novel are all rather picturesque, old and isolated. Themes of memory are constantly repeated in the cabin in the woods that Kafka came to when he was running from the police. The cabin is described as old and weathered, with very basic amenities and surrounded by the dark and ancient forest. Throughout his time spent in solidarity, there is a notion of memory and time replaying itself, because Oshima and his brother did the same thing when they were a boy. Kafka Tamura, like Oshima’s brother in the past, listens to no warnings and ventures deep into the dark forest, full of figures from the past and his memories. This fantastical experience is perhaps the most literal manifestation of the themes of memory in the book.

Murakami makes numerous literary, musical, and film references throughout the novel, particularly references to Franz Kafka. Many of the characters in the book have Kafkaesque themes, the most obvious being the name the protagonist gives to himself, Kafka Tamura. Although the reader never truly finds out his real name, he explains why he chooses the name Kafka to represent his identity. Kafka Tamura often converses with his alter-ego, a boy named Crow. Throughout the book, the reader finds out that Kafka literally means crow in Czech, fusing the way the protagonist sees himself with Franz Kafka. Murakami may have utilized Franz Kafka to emphasize themes of isolation and solidarity throughout the novel in numerous characters.

In conclusion, Haruki Murakami creates very specific settings in Kafka on the Shore in order to place across themes of melancholy, isolation and memory. The settings become a device to construct many of the metaphors in the novel which is complemented in reference to magical realism as a way to create a fantastical world within reality.

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