Haruki Murakami: Alienation as a Transformative Agent in “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki”
With the recent release of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami has added yet another volume to his ever-growing collection of postmodern masterpieces. The titular protagonist finds himself, over the course of novel, confronting numerous emotional battles which stem from and produce a sense of alienation. Yet, this alienated themed-pilgrimage through which Haruki’s new narrator must traverse ultimately acts as a transformative agent, one that successfully manages to mold Tsukuru into an individual who holds a sense of positive autonomy.
Tsukuru Tazaki’s troubled emotions and alienation is overtly Murakamian is nature. Murakami’s newest novel departs from his well-known, magical realism approach that influenced other works such as Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, yet his lead character nonetheless houses the same characteristics as Kafka and Toru Okada, respectively. Tsukuru’s sense of alienation stems directly from a negative sequence of events that the novel opens with. Indeed, while Tsukuru may be similar to some of Murakami’s other characters, his depressed and melancholy attitude appears much more severe, as evidenced from the opening paragraph of the novel:
From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying. He turned twenty during this time, but this special watershed — becoming an adult — meant nothing. Taking his own life seemed the most natural solution, and even now he couldn’t say why he hadn’t taken this final step. Crossing that threshold between life and death would have been easier than swallowing down a slick, raw, egg. (3)
This forlornness that Tsukuru feels is brought on by the fact that he is alienated from his close friend group — four friends that, interestingly enough, all have names which contain a color (red, blue, white, black) in the Japanese language. Tsukuru, however, is colorless; his name does not contain a color. Because of this, its as if Tsukuru was destined to be excluded from this group of friends, never fitting in to begin with, as the narrator describes:
The two boys’ last names were Akamatsu—which means ‘red pine’—and Oumi —‘blue sea’; the girls’ family names were Shirane—‘white root’—and Kurono—‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this made his feel a little bit left out. (9-10)
He is alienated from the group for a number of reasons that are wonderfully intriguing and utterly Murakamian — near the end of the book, one is left wondering if Tsukuru really did do the awful things that his friends said he did, thanks to Murakami’s slight employment of his traditional magical realism style. Regardless, he is cut off completely, immediately, and fails to ask his friends why they have decided to come to such a drastic conclusion. Indeed, Tsukuru’s sense of agency in this situation is minute at best. While the average individual may demand reasons for being cut off so suddenly, when his friends “announced that they did not want to see him, or talk with him, ever again … Tsukuru didn’t dare ask [why].” (6) Furthermore, Tsukuru even fails to find the will to kill himself. While this may seem irrelevant, it only reinforces his lack of agency and control over his own life. Later in the novel, Tsukuru is alienated further when yet another friend abandons him. Once again, Tsukuru’s inability to influence his surroundings disables him from stopping this good friend from leaving. Murakami continues to illuminate Tsukuru’s undeveloped sense of agency through other realities. In the another example of the book’s small retaining of magical realism, Tsukuru cannot harbor any sense of agency even within his dreams, where he cannot manage to control who he has sexual relations with.
Yet, all the alienation that Tsukuru feels eventually manages to act as a transformative agent, an aspect of his life which, paradoxically, contributes to his development of agency. It is only through being alienated that Tsukuru is able to find the truth about his original ostracization from his close friend group. Consequently, the agency he displays through discovering the reasons behind of his original alienation, in turn, is fueled from the fact that he refuses to allow himself from being alienated once again, this time from his girlfriend. The transformation that Tsukuru experiences produces a magnificent character, one who has truly come full circle from a disempowered, alienated youth, to a confident adult, who, while still feeling alienated, now has the willpower to change his fate, as Alexander illustrates: “Tsukuru may be an empty vessel at the outset of the text, but over the course of a chain of conversations he’s filled up, measure by measure, to the extent that he has become one of Murakami’s most memorable leading men by the end.” Tsukuru’s newly found sense of agency, and the positive consequences that occupancy it, are displayed when he states, in regards to his girlfriend, “I’m going to propose to her right away. And give her everything I’m capable of giving — every single thing.” (385) While, in traditional Murakami style, the ending of the novel is open to interpretations and Tsukuru’s fate is left unknown, one can only assume that through this discovering of agency that Tsukuru will manage to avoid yet another encounter with alienation.
Alexander, Niall. “An Empty Vessel: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.” Tor.com. N.p., 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Nov. 2014.
Murakami, Haruki. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: A Novel. Trans. Philip Gabriel. N.p.: Knopf, 2014. Print.
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