Themes

Identity and journey to the self

Toru Okada's journey to find his identity starts as he starts looking for the cat Noboru Wataya. By quitting his job he denounces his ordinary life cycle which leaves more space for thinking about his inner self.
  • Can you truly know someone?
  • End to Kumiko and Toru Okada’s marriage
  • Name Creta and Malta islands, baby named Corsica
  • Food names: Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Female substitutes

  • Creta substitutes Kumiko, dresses in her clothes
  • Prostitution
  • Clothing
  • May Kasahara’s delusions of being Kumiko
  • Creta Kano was wearing a summer dress of Kumiko’s: pale blue, with an openwork pattern of birds….(p.189)
  • I am a prostitute. I used to be a prostitute of the flesh, but now I am a prostitute of the mind. (p. 212 Creta Kano)
  • Toru: Where are your clothes? Creta: You were asleep so I took the liberty of borrowing some of your wife’s clothing…That’s not a problem. (p. 296)

The other, polar opposites
 
The concept of polar opposites is central to the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. The most clearly presented pair of polar opposites in the novel is the divide between Noboru Wataya and Toru Okada. These two characters are different in such a way that they could never meet in a symbolic sense. Their worldviews and perspectives on life are exact opposites. Noboru is ambitious, disrespectful of others and a powerful character whereas Toru is down-to-earth, respectful, shy, calm and quiet. Creta Kano describes this divide effectively: “Noboru Wataya is a person who belongs to a world that is the exact opposite of yours.” (page 312)  

Other examples include Kumiko and the mysterious caller. Kumiko is a relatively shy and quiet character who usually keeps to herself in the presence of Toru. The mysterious caller on the other hand is overtly sexual and appears to be powerful and in control. This creates a significant contrast between the women Toru interacts with throughout the novel.
The theme of polar opposites extends beyond characters. The contrast between darkness and light is consistently employed throughout the novel, especially to provide a symbolic backdrop for characters’ inner growth and search for meaning and identity. Toru spends a lot of time thinking about life in the darkness of the well. Similarly, Mamiya’s experience of being stuck in a well and seeing a bright light shine into it became a turning point in his life: a sense of numbness overtook him for the rest of his life. 

The “forgotten” war

The invasion of Manchuria and China is a topic that is brought up in the novel despite it being a sensitive topic in Japan. It shows the horrors of what man could do in dire situations. The cruelty is depicted in a personal and thought-provoking manner. Murakami, to some extent, criticizes the war and how people have tried to forget it instead of dealing with it and wrestling with the challenges it presents. Parallels are drawn to modern characters such as Noboru Wataya who represents the type of cruelty and violence that took place during the war. Similarly, Toru is a parallel to the vet: both could hear the wind-up bird and had a mark on their face, both are healers. In general, Murakami seems to be promoting an examination of the past in order to understand the present, even on a personal level just like Cinnamon searched “for the meaning of his own existence” by “looking into the events that had preceded his birth.” (page 525) 

Marriage and love

Toru’s and Kumiko’s marriage is a crucial part of the setting of the novel. It raises questions that continue to be asked later on in the story: What does it mean to really know someone? Is it ever possible to truly know someone, even in a seemingly close relationship like marriage? What constitutes to a person’s identity? The breaking down of Toru’s marriage marks a turning point in the novel and serves as wake-up call for Toru to begin his search for meaning and identity in earnest. 

In general, the picture of marriage in the novel is far from ideal. Toru and Kumiko’s marriage lacks a sort of closeness and is hindered by secrecy. Similarly, Okada’s co-worker in the law firms describes marriage in the following way: “I’m so scared I can hardly stand it. I feel like back then, like I’m being swept along towards it and I can’t get away” (page 105) This lack and fear of closeness and intimacy ties in well with the theme of alienation and highlights the postmodernist features of the novel. 

Loyalty and trust

Loyalty and trust are a significant part of the novel's story and the main character, Toru Okada. The relationship between his wife Kumiko faces a setback when Kumiko suddenly disappears leaving signs of having an affair with another man. Toru himself has never had extra-marital affairs and is shocked to realise her wife's betrayal. Before this, he never questioned her loyalty, and therefore the disappearance of Kumiko is an important point in the novel's storyline. Toru assuming their feelings to be mutual makes him seem gullible. 

Alienation
 
Many of the characters in Murakami’s novel are in some sense alienated and alone. For Toru it is to a great extent a personal choice: he is willingly alienated. This can be seen, for example, in his decision to quit his job and the way he does not mind staying home alone cooking and doing the laundry. Even when leaving the house he prefers to be isolated from others: “I went to the municipal pool for a swim. Mornings were best, to avoid the crowds.” (page 101)
Other alienated characters include Mr. Honda who lived all alone in Tokyo as well as Lieutenant Mamiya after the war: “I never had a single real friend, no human ties with the students in my charge. I never loved anyone. I no longer knew what it meant to love another person.” (page 171) In general, the importance of family is relatively small in the novel: characters are individuals rather than a part of some greater community. This lack of human ties with other people, even family members, is a typical postmodernist feature. 

Subconscious and reality

The role of magical realism in the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is significant. This is emphasized in the juxtaposition of subconscious and reality. Malta Kano’s special abilities, Creta Kano as a prostitute of the mind, Honda’s gift of foresight, all create a setting featuring the supernatural. However, all these features are accepted by the characters as an inevitable part of reality, not as something beyond the natural flow of life. As the story develops it becomes increasingly difficult for characters and readers alike to distinguish between what is actually real and what is not. Lieutenant Mamiya describes his experiences after the war as “delusions on the borderline between dream and reality.” (page 207) 

Even the very nature of reality is questioned in the novel: If Toru and Creta Kano have sex in a dream and they both share the same exact experience is it still fair to consider it a dream? Does it go beyond being a dream to become reality or alternatively something between the two? The following quote in Book 3 sums up the novel’s perspective on reality effectively: “fact may not be truth, and truth may not be factual.” (page 525)

 Naming  and re-naming

  • The cat is named after Noboru Wataya since it walks like Noboru and his eyes resemble him. The cat is later renamed Mackerel, as Noboru Wataya has become his enemy, and does not want his cat named after him. 
  • Malta and Creta Kano are both named after islands. This could symbolize how both of them live isolated lives, they are different from others and have little human contact. 
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg are both (Western) spices. Real people are not named after spices, shows how they are not normal people and want to hide their true identity. Perhaps these characters are made to "spice up" the novel.  

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