The image of the labyrinth in Kafka on the Shore is used to represent knowledge-seeking and understanding of the self—an undertaking that poses no small challenge to the characters in the novel. Like the Oedipal myth that is an important part of this book, the concept of the labyrinth extends back to Greek mythology, and can represent both confusion and the eventual attainment of knowledge or self-awareness.
“The Labyrinth” is the name of Kafka’s father’s most celebrated work of sculpture, which reflects the fact that Kafka finds his own father to be inscrutable and frightening. But there are also less literal labyrinths that play a key role in the story. Oshima explains to Kafka that in ancient Mesopotamian culture, the labyrinth-like intestines of animals and humans would be examined to try to reveal prophecies. He points out that in that way, “the principle for the labyrinth is inside you” (352). This idea is reflected by the fact that Kafka must work through several puzzles and mazes in order to gain a better understanding of himself. Kafka’s inner voice, Crow, points out that his strange relationship with Miss Saeki is like a “labyrinth of time” from which Kafka does not want to escape (243). Kafka learns a lot about himself and experiences his first love by venturing into this labyrinth, but he also experiences anguish and loss. It is only by venturing into the maze of trees in the forest, another kind of labyrinth, that Kafka ultimately confronts the mysteries of his past and comes to peace with them. The deeper he ventures into the woods, the more he feels as if he is venturing into his own mind. Although labyrinths in Kafka on the Shore pose the threat of becoming lost, venturing into them allows characters to face their fears and gain important self-knowledge. In this way, the labyrinth signifies the difficult but important process of introspection.