Kafka on the Shore provides us with several metaphors, along with ideas such as duality and the condition of the spirit. But what does it mean?
In this final part of the analysis, I am going to get to essence of what I think Murakami is trying to achieve in ‘Kafka’. ‘Kafka’ is about In my opinion, one of the most prevalent topics in ‘Kafka’ would be the search for one’s purpose. And, instead of having one major lesson, the book is written in such a way that there are several perspectives of purpose portrayed.
One such perspective would be the idea that one might find that purpose within themselves, and know it to be as such. After a lifetime of woodworking, Nakata finds the urge within himself to track down Miss Saeki and find the other half of his shadow. Helping to open and close the entrance stone was his purpose, and soon this purpose was handed down to Hoshino, which brings forth the second perspective: purpose comes from critical decisions. If Hoshino had not decided there and then that it is worth sacrificing his job for Nakata’s quest, he would not have achieved any sort of fulfilment, and eventually, because of that decision, his purpose was brought forward to him by a speaking cat, in the form of killing the white blob and closing the entrance stone. The Archduke Trio by Beethoven is a symbol of this critical change, as the nature of the music contrasts with the typical sleaziness and roughness associated with truckers.
The third perspective would be the idea that purpose, once lost, cannot be regained. This can especially be seen in two characters: Kafka’s father, and Miss Saeki. Kafka’s father lost all sense of purpose, instead focusing on sculpture, symbolic reflections of his hollow body. He soon made killing cats and enlarging his flute of souls his purpose, an empty and unfulfillable purpose that made him accept death with ease. Once Miss Saeki’s lover died, her purpose of existence died right there, and her new purpose was to experience the love of her lover on more time, leading her to open the entrance stone in the first place. However, when faced with the hollow body of her new husband and the gravity of her actions, she fled to manage the library, eventually living a purposeless life, waiting for death.
The fourth perspective would be the idea that purpose is a part of who we are. Purpose is the greatest thing that defines us from everything else, for without purpose, we are merely physical shells. Murakami portrays this by linking purpose to spirit. Losing one’s spirit is the same as losing one’s purpose, as can be seen from Kafka’s father and Miss Saeki. In the end, this is what the whole book is about. It is about Kafka struggling with his identity and purpose, ultimately accepting who he is and determined to start his life again anew, with a new perspective.
There are two really apparent motifs in the novel: time (as well as age), and memory. Kafka is “the toughest fifteen year old in the world” but he looks seventeen. Miss Saeki has a part of her spirit walking as a fifteen year old, but the remainder of her broken spirit is fifty. The philosophy major makes a remark regarding the impossibility of the present, as the present is just the past eating into the future. And within the spirit world, time does not exist. The motif of time and age is to show that time has no place in the search for one’s purpose. Purpose violates all boundaries of time and age, and to purpose, time does not exist.
This is in contrast to the motif of memory. Memory is oftentimes in direct violation of one’s search for purpose. Several characters in the novel are weighted down by memory, most notably Miss Saeki. It’s the inability to forget her lover’s death that ultimately resulted in the destruction of any future relationship and the inability to regain her purpose. Kafka’s inability to forget about his mother and sister’s departure made him overthink situations, and ultimately pulled him down a dark path when he finally started to love Miss Saeki. The Komura library with all its books is a symbol for memory. When present day Miss Saeki manages it, she is burdened by it. This is in contrast to the empty library of the spirit world. To spirit and purpose, there is no memory. There is only the future. Or at least, that’s what the novel is trying to argue.
Kafka, our main character, makes the critical decision to run away from home, thereby creating his own path and purpose. However, he is unable to find out what that purpose it, and is instead weighted down by his memories until he enters the spirit world. He falls in leave with a living spirit because of his own memories, the constant bite of his prophecy and the part of Miss Saeki’s lover’s spirit that was still within him. In the spirit world, he is shown a cabin without books, in contrast to Oshima’s cabin in the human world. Fifteen year-old Miss Saeki visits and fully interacts with him in the spirit world, and time on his watch has stopped. At that moment, he was about to decide that this is his meaning, that this is his purpose. Miss Saeki was everything to him and staying with her became his meaning. Meanwhile, Nakata met Miss Saeki, and Miss Saeki presented Nakata with a whole documentation of her life, asking him to burn it promptly. These papers represent her memories, and through burning them, she has decided to finally let go of the memories and lay her spirit to rest. She dies, at peace, and the remainder of her spirit goes into the spirit world and tells Kafka to turn back. She’s effectively telling Kafka that his life was not destined to be as such, that his original spirit has a greater meaning beyond staying with a dead soul. When Kafka remarks that he did not know what to do next, she told him to look at the painting, at ‘Kafka on the Shore’. As mentioned in Part 1 of this analysis, ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is a symbol for the search of one’s purpose, with the boy in the painting looking out into the distance for the ‘pendulum that swings the world’, the essence of the everyday that pushes everyone forwards.
By telling Kafka to look at this painting, the book has achieved its primary purpose: to tell the reader to keep on searching for purpose, as a life without purpose is not a life lived. Purpose can come from within or from others, like Nakata and Hoshino respectively, and the first step in achieving one’s purpose is the right decision at that critical juncture. Once you get hold of this purpose, do not lose it, for you can never get it back again.
And, with that, adiós.