Kafka on the Shore


Haruki Murakami

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Kafka on the Shore Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Haruki Murakami

As a child and teenager, Murakami was interested in Western culture, soaking up the work of writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Dickens, and Franz Kafka. After graduating from Waseda University in 1973, Murakami worked in a record store before opening a small jazz bar with his wife. One day, while attending a baseball game, Murakami was suddenly struck with the conviction that he could become a novelist, and began writing that night. Since then, Murakami has gained international acclaim for his surreal novels and short stories. Most of Murakami’s books blend elements of magical realism or absurdity with the mundane, creating fictional worlds that are variously unsettling and humorous. He has said that “writing a novel is like having a dream.” His work has been translated into over 50 languages. In 2006, Murakami became the sixth winner of the Franz Kafka Prize, awarded to writers whose works serve as “a testimony about our times.”
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Historical Context of Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore is one of several recent works by Murakami to address collective trauma in Japanese history. References to the lingering memory of World War II and the subsequent American occupation serve as one of the novel’s important recurring motifs. Some characters, like Nakata, are still deeply affected by their wartime experiences. In flashbacks to the war period depicted in letters and army paperwork, Murakami touches on aspects of rural life during the war, including fear of biological or chemical attack and the necessity of foraging for food because of wartime shortages. Although Murakami was born after the close of World War II, as a child Murakami heard stories of wartime from his father, and has said that he sees those memories as an “inheritance.” Kafka on the Shore also touches on the practice of Shinto, a traditional Japanese religion centered on ritual and connections to the past.

Other Books Related to Kafka on the Shore

Murakami employs a distinct form of magical realism that blends elements of the Japanese literary tradition with foreign influences. Kafka on the Shore is one of many works by Murakami written in the style of the traditional Japanese “I-Novel,” which emerged in the early twentieth century. I-Novels typically use a first-person, confessional style, often to take on extremely dark and personal subject matter. At the same time, Murakami has also been criticized within Japan for his unconventional style, which draws inspiration from European writers including Kurt Vonnegut and the Czech novelist Franz Kafka. Like Murakami, much of Kafka’s work, such as his short story “The Metamorphosis,” blends unsettling fantastical elements with realism to portray isolated characters dealing with the absurdity of modern life. Kafka on the Shore has also drawn much comparison to Murakami’s other long surrealist works, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Kafka on the Shore also draws heavily on the ancient Greek tragic myth of Oedipus, immortalized in dramatic form by Sophocles in his play, Oedipus Rex. In the myth, Oedipus receives a prophecy from the oracle at Delphi that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Unwittingly, Oedipus fulfills the prophecy. When he finds out what has happened, Oedipus blinds himself in anguish. The Oedipus myth is often cited as an example of self-fulfilling prophecy, and became associated with Freudian psychology after Freud developed the theory of the “Oedipus complex.” Characters in Kafka on the Shore discuss the Oedipus myth often because Kafka believes himself to be the subject of an Oedipal prophecy.
Key Facts about Kafka on the Shore
  • Full Title: Kafka on the Shore
  • When Published: 2002 in Japanese and 2005 in English translation
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Magical realism; fiction
  • Setting: Tokyo and Takamatsu, Japan
  • Climax: The door to the other world is closed as Kafka forgives his mother
  • Antagonist: The Oedipal prophecy
  • Point of View: First, second, and third person

Extra Credit for Kafka on the Shore

Unanswered Questions: In the three months after Kafka on the Shore was published in Japan, Murakami received over 8,000 questions from readers about the book. He responded to over 1,200 of them. As a result of those conversations, Murakami now believes that the best way to understand Kafka on the Shore is to read it multiple times.

At Bat: Murakami often tells the story of how he became a novelist. In 1978, at a baseball game in Japan, Murakami watched Dave Hilton, an American player who was playing in Japan, hit a double. At that very moment, Murakami realized that he was destined to become a novelist.