In the surreal world of Kafka on the Shore, characters may have a hard time understanding not only strange phenomena and encounters in the world, but also their own inner experiences and behavior. Some characters, and especially Kafka, feel as if the world and their own futures must be governed by inescapable prophecies. Meanwhile, other characters feel that they are destined to carry out special missions, or fall in love or die at specific moments. The possibility of a destined path might offer solace, but it can also be ominous. Whether or not “fate” truly exists, belief in fate drives the characters in Kafka in the Shore to behave in such ways that render the question irrelevant, as they ultimately fulfill their own imagined prophecies. Thus, Murakami shows that belief in fate is what makes fate real, and prophecies self-fulfilling.
Kafka is driven, to the point of obsession, by a “prophecy” delivered by his father: that Kafka will murder his father, and have sex with his mother and older sister. Kafka is tormented by the prophecy, and believes himself to be fighting or fulfilling it at almost every turn. Kafka’s own “prophecy” parallels a famous prophecy from the myth of Oedipus, in which an oracle correctly predicts that Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Kafka frequently references the story of Oedipus, turning the myth into a kind of roadmap guiding his own life. When the news comes that Kafka’s father has mysteriously been murdered, Kafka strongly feels that he is responsible, even though he has no memory of committing the murder and was hundreds of miles away at the time. Kafka is convinced that the sheer power of his dreams and desires makes him responsible for his father’s death. In a further manifestation of the prophecy’s power over Kafka’s thought, Kafka imagines that Sakura, a girl he met on a train, is his sister, despite little evidence (and the fact that she has a different name from Kafka’s sister). As a result, he is confused by their brief sexual encounter and tormented by erotic dreams and the belief that he will rape Sakura. Thus, Kafka’s relationship with Sakura is tinged with guilt and anguish because of his intense belief in fate and prophecy. Kafka’s second and far more intense relationship in the book is with Miss Saeki, a middle aged woman whom he believes to be his mother—again, despite the fact that he has no real evidence to support this theory. Kafka falls madly in love with Miss Saeki and begins an intense affair with her, casting her as both his lover and his mother. Kafka lets his belief in the Oedipal prophecy guide him into relationships that he believes are wrong, because he feels he has no power to resist.
Apart from Kafka’s obsession with his family prophecy, many other characters feel that they are destined to be with certain others. As a result, they ascribe special significance to the strangers they meet, and allow new relationships to totally alter their plans. For example, Kafka assigns deep significance to new friendships, in part because he is searching for his lost family. When he meets Sakura by chance, he becomes convinced that they share a special connection. Much as Kafka casts new acquaintances in the roles of his lost family members, Hoshino is drawn to Nakata because Nakata reminds him of his beloved deceased grandfather. This imaginary relationship is so strong that Hoshino abandons his day-to-day life in order to assist Nakata on his mysterious quest, even as it grows increasingly surreal. Finally, Miss Saeki believes that she and her childhood sweetheart were destined to be together—so much so that she was never able to recover from his premature death. She is drawn to Kafka because he seems to her to be a reincarnation of her boyfriend, and begins a relationship with him because of this. Throughout the novel, characters are drawn into incongruous, sometimes unhealthy, relationships, and onto strange new paths because of their beliefs in fated relationships.
A serious belief in fate can lead characters to think they can predict the future—and, in Murakami’s surrealist vision, this is sometimes true. This strengthens the illusion that the world is governed by fate and life’s outcomes predetermined. However, reliance on this belief in predetermination also makes characters dangerously oblivious to the unpredictable nature of life, and the possibility of sudden death. Nakata, for instance, begins to predict bizarre weather events, such as storms of fish and leeches falling from the sky, or continuous lightning strikes. When these predictions come true, Nakata gains confidence that his quest will be successful. This firm belief is undercut when Nakata dies suddenly, before the quest can be completed. Nakata’s death demonstrates that, even in a world where special powers of prediction exist, it is actually impossible for humans to know the future. Miss Saeki and Oshima both believe that they know exactly when they will die. This belief leads them to live fearlessly during their allotted time and take care of important matters without delay. But more importantly, both characters are reckless and take unnecessary risks because they believe they can know the details of their own deaths. Thus, belief in fate blinds characters not just to the unpredictable nature of life, but also to the possibility of unexpected death.
Because the characters in this novel are obsessed by fate and prediction, they let their beliefs about the future govern their life choices and relationships in aware and unaware ways. This warped sense of reality leads characters to put themselves in dangerous situations or unhappy relationships because they believe they are forced to by a predetermined fate. Murakami shows that reliance on belief in fate prevents people from making rational choices, and in fact can lead them to feel trapped in situations where they actually do have a choice.
Fate and Prophecy ThemeTracker
Fate and Prophecy Quotes in Kafka on the Shore
Sometimes fate is like a sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change directions but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you.
“‘Even chance meetings’… how does the rest of that go?”
“‘Are the result of karma.’”
“Right, right,” she says. “But what does it mean?”
“That things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence.”
“In ancient times, people weren’t just male or female, but one of three types: male/male, male/female, or female/female. In other words, each person was made out of the components of two people. Everyone was happy with this arrangement and never really gave it much thought. But then God took a knife and cut everybody in half, right down the middle. So after that the world was divided just into male and female, the upshot being that people spend their time running around trying to locate their missing other half.”
Oshima and Kafka have just met for the first time. Oshima engages Kafka in a surprisingly deep conversation about the nature of the soul. Indeed, this quote reveals much about Oshima’s worldview, and foreshadows later conversations he will have with Kafka, as their friendship develops, about his own gender identity. Oshima’s story helps to explain why many characters in the novel feel as if they are being drawn towards each other by forces outside of their control or knowledge, as well as why characters feel so comfortable with each other so soon after meeting: perhaps they are actually two halves of the same soul, reunited at last. However, another side to that theory is that soulmates are codependent—and, until they meet, are less than complete. One possible danger of a belief in soulmates is that it suggests that someone who has not found their soul mate is less than whole, and therefore cannot possibly have a fulfilling life. Finally, Oshima’s story relates to his gender identity, something that he keeps private from Kafka until later. Oshima identifies as a gay transgender man, but because he faces prejudice from others who don’t know about his identity or perceive him as female, Oshima often feels conflicted about his gender, making him another example of the ways in which the novel deals with the split between the mind (or the self) and the body.
I didn’t cry at all. I already knew that somewhere, on some distant battlefield, my husband would lose his life. Ever since the year before, when all those things I just wrote about took place—that erotic dream my period starting ahead of time, hitting Nakata, the children falling into that mysterious coma—I’d accepted my husband’s death as inevitable, as something fated to be. So news of his death merely confirmed what I already knew.
“My father told me there was nothing I could to escape this fate. That prophecy is like a timing device buried inside my genes, and nothing can ever change it. I will kill my father and be with my mother and sister.”
One by one the words find a home in my heart. It’s a weird feeling. Images beyond any meaning arise like cutout figures and stand alone, just like when I’m in the middle of a deep dream.
The drowning girl’s fingers
Search for the entrance stone, and more.
Lifting the hem of her azure dress,
at Kafka on the shore.
The lyrics to “Kafka on the Shore” speak deeply to Kafka, serving as one of many pieces of real or imagined evidence convincing him that he is being drawn to Miss Saeki by fate. Indeed, there are many references in the song tying different elements of the book together, adding a note of surrealism and coincidence that helps explain why characters like Kafka might believe so strongly in fate. The most obvious instance of this is the connection to Kafka’s name, which seems especially powerful because he chose the name “Kafka” for himself. The reference to the “search for the entrance stone” connects Miss Saeki and Kafka’s story to that of Hoshino and Nakata, reinforcing the suspicion of many characters in the book that their lives are on predetermined paths.
I breathe very quietly, waiting for the dawn. A cloud parts, and moonlight shines down on the trees in the garden. There are just too many coincidences. Everything seems to be speeding up, rushing towards one destination.
“There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault. Or mine, either. Not the fault of prophecies, or curses, or DNA, or absurdity. Not the fault of structuralism or the Third Industrial Revolution. We all die and disappear, but that’s because the mechanism of the world itself is built on destruction and loss.”
What makes sense, what doesn’t, it’s all mixed up. Above me, a crow gives out a piercing caw that sounds like a warning, it’s so jarring. I stop and cautiously survey my surroundings.
“You have to overcome the fear and anger inside you,” the boy named Crow says. “Let a bright light shine in and melt the coldness in your heart. That’s what being tough is all about.”
He’d resigned himself to the fact that it was only a matter of time before this day came. But now that it had, and he was alone in this quiet room with a dead Miss Saeki, he was lost. He felt as if his heart had dried up.