Unwinding the Wind-Up Bird – Decoding the Murakami Masterpiece
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle can have different effects on the readers – it can either amaze you with its sheer brilliance or exhaust you with its seemingly unconnected tales. For a staunch Murakami fan, the disparateness will be nothing new but what can prove exhausting is the duration of these enigmas. With each turning page, the mystery deepens and the haze intensifies. For me, at certain points, the book remained frustrating due to the lack of clarity as a reader; yet on finishing it I became preoccupied to understand the mystery beneath the words. Here is my key to unwind The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle with which I could segregate my thoughts and put some semblance of order into this brilliant yet chaotic narration.
Toru Okada – Toru is an easy-going young man who enjoys his domestic life. He does not measure success in terms of a great job or immeasurable wealth. Although unemployed, he uses his spare time in thinking deeply about anything ranging from music to relationships and also performing domestic chores. Rather than jumping on to the next job, he waits for it to be clear to him what profession to undertake. As a protagonist, he is anything but the conventional successful hero accepted by the norms of the society. He is a loner, not in control of the elements of his life and destined for unconditional doom. As Toru is the protagonist, the antagonist is Noboru Wataya, an ambitious and malevolent man. We can even speculate that they are two sides of the same coin and that Noboru Wataya is a darker but highly successful version of Toru Okada.
Noboru Wataya – Noboru Wataya is the nemesis of Toru Okada and also happens to be his brother-in-law. Noboru is Murakami’s alter-ego of Toru such that he is highly successful in the eyes of the society. He is an academician, a well- respected economist and a rising star in politics. Noboru Wataya stands for the duplicity of the society. In Murakami’s words:
“If you paid close attention to what he was saying or what he had written, you knew that his words lacked consistency. They reflected no single worldview based on profound conviction”.
Just like a chameleon changing its color, Noboru changes ideologies and principles with the sole purpose of defeating his opponents. Yet, hardly anybody seems to notice this in Noboru Wataya other than Toru. They both deeply loath each other and their stories is a representation of good versus evil.
Creta Kano/ Kumiko Okada/ Telephone Woman – I am combining all these three characters together as I feel they are one and the same but existing at different time frames. Although Creta Kano and Kumiko exist during the same time, I feel that Creta is an earlier version of Kumiko. The striking physical similarity between the two women and Creta Kano sporting a sixties hairstyle suggests that she is an earlier version of Kumiko. Similarly, the dream transformations of the Telephone Woman to Creta Kano and then to Kumiko also suggests that they are the same person but at different times. The Telephone Woman appears to be a future version of Kumiko, calling to inform Toru about the troubles brewing within the mind of the present day Kumiko. Also, both Kumiko and Creta Kano suffer injustices at the hands of Noboru Wataya which leaves them empty and reeling for an identity.
Malta Kano/ Kumiko’s sister – The relationship between Creta and Malta Kano might be an extension of the relationship between Kumiko and her sister. Kumiko’s sister ends her life at a young age leaving Kumiko to deal with her life on her own. In contrast, Malta Kano even through her travels and research keeps in touch with Creta Kano, rescues her from destruction at the hands of Noboru and mentors her in the search of an identity. The relationship between the Kano sisters is what could have come out of Kumiko and her sister also, had she been alive.
Lieutenant Mamiya and Boris the Manskinner – The relationship between Boris and Mamiya reminds us of the relationship between Noboru Wataya and Toru Okada. There is the good versus evil theme in play here also similar to the work of Toru and Noboru. Mamiya is the one to introduce Toru to the experiences in the well where he narrowly misses being transported into the world of consciousness. Mamiya appears to be an earlier form of Toru himself with Boris being the equivalent of Noboru. Boris, who is pure evil, finds success in the fear of the people and in hoarding wealth. Mamiya, although righteous, could not kill Boris even when he shoots him straight into the head as the bullet misses him narrowly. Mamiya fails in the ultimate encounter and has to live with Boris’s curse for the rest of his life. Cementing the fact that Creta and Mamiya are the earlier forms of Kumiko and Toru respectively is the news that Creta marries Mamiya and has a child named Corsica with him. Toru decides to keep this as the name of the unborn child between him and Kumiko indicating that both are different manifestations of the same people.
Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka – The stories of Nutmeg and Cinnamon puts into perspective the presence of the Wind-Up bird. The narratives showcases clearly that the bird is a harbinger for something evil. Every single person who listens to the bird experiences an extraordinary fate. Cinnamon listens to the bird at night and loses his power of speech and Toru loses Kumiko on listening to the bird. Their story also brings the mark on Toru’s face into picture and links him inextricably with Nutmeg’s father who too had a similar mark on his face. This story also raises the questions of split identities. All the main characters undergo out- of- body experiences – Cinnamon experiences it right before losing his speech when his conscience detaches from his body; Nutmeg, while physically present on the ship to Japan, has her conscience witnessing the killing of animals in the Manchuria Zoo and Nutmeg’s father, the veterinarian, experiences it in the graves of the murdered Chinese soldiers where at the same time he is both looking down at the soldiers and he himself is the soldier on the verge of death. All of them take the dual identities of one meeting out an action and the other suffering the consequence. Also, Cinnamon through his document titled ‘Wind-Up Bird Chronicle 17’ makes Toru aware of Kumiko’s decision about their future and also Noboru Wataya’s fate.
May Kasahara –May Kasahara is an interesting character in the book. I feel her purpose in the story is to guide Toru to the well where he discovers his consciousness. She also effectively closes the lid on the well trapping Toru in his consciousness and allowing him to roam through it freely to discover Kumiko.
The Well – The well stands for the connection between the consciousness and the sub-consciousness. Toru has to move into this world in search of Kumiko and battle the demons of his mind to eliminate Noboru Wataya and bring Kumiko back.
The Cat – The cat stands for the marital happiness of Toru and Kumiko. The leaving of the cat was an omen that their marriage was going through difficult times. Once the cat reappears in the apartment, it signals that Toru is in a position to communicate to Kumiko and even rescue her from the clutches of Noboru Wataya.
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