Kafka on the Shore


Haruki Murakami

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The Labyrinth Symbol Analysis

The Labyrinth Symbol Icon

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.

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The Labyrinth Symbol Timeline in Kafka on the Shore

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Labyrinth appears in Kafka on the Shore. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 17
The Virtues of Self-Sufficiency Theme Icon
...he is careful not to venture too far into the silence and darkness of the labyrinth-like woods, he is perfectly at peace. On the fourth day, Oshima returns while Kafka is... (full context)
Chapter 21
The Mind vs. The Body Theme Icon
...STABBED TO DEATH.” The article reports that Koichi, a famous sculptor known for his work “Labyrinth” was found naked in a pool of blood in his home. Police are treating the... (full context)
Chapter 25
The Virtues of Self-Sufficiency Theme Icon
...Kafka has felt before. Crow says it is as if he has wandered into “a labyrinth of time,” and he has no desire to escape. (full context)
Chapter 37
The Mind vs. The Body Theme Icon
...step in, but not so easy to step out. He likens the woods to a labyrinth. Ancient Mesopotamians, he says, would inspect the complicated, labyrinth-like shapes of animal and human intestines... (full context)
Chapter 39
The Mind vs. The Body Theme Icon
Music and Introspection Theme Icon
...the woods. He arrives at the clearing where the trees grow more dense, like a labyrinth, and decides to forge ahead. Trying to make himself feel afraid, he ventures into the... (full context)
Chapter 41
Fate and Prophecy Theme Icon
But Kafka suddenly feels confused, like he’s lost in a labyrinth. He feels hollow, like there’s nothing that makes him real. Crow has vanished, and Kafka... (full context)
Chapter 43
The Mind vs. The Body Theme Icon
The Virtues of Self-Sufficiency Theme Icon
...and unafraid, Kafka forges into the forest, as if going towards the heart of a labyrinth. He has the feeling that the forest is a part of him, and he’s actually... (full context)