Characters in Kafka on the Shore struggle to overcome personal challenges in order to become self-reliant. In addition to experiencing isolation and loss, characters frequently grapple with the question of whether their greatest trials must be faced alone. Murakami demonstrates that the cultivation of personal strength and the ability to be alone is important—but equally important is the capacity to accept the support of others.
As Murakami’s characters attempt to rationalize death and loss, they often find themselves feeling extremely lonely. They also find that their most profound emotions and insights are impossible to fully share with others. Yet this state of loneliness can also help characters to better understand themselves. Oshima brings Kafka to a remote cabin, where Kafka experiences true isolation—just as Oshima did when he was a teenager. Here, Kafka wrestles with and overcomes some of his greatest fears, eventually making peace with the fact that his mother and sister are gone. Although Oshima, Oshima’s brother, and Kafka have all had similarly transformative experiences in the forest, they acknowledge that such experiences are private and better left undiscussed. Miss Saeki chooses a similarly solitary and private existence because of the loss of her boyfriend. She keeps a careful record of her past, but refuses to share it with anyone—until she meets Nakata, someone who is equally misunderstood and introverted. She asks him to burn the secrets contained in her journals, a request that he implicitly understands and undertakes. In these moments, characters draw strength and insight from periods spent in isolated self-reflection. Their introspection is extremely private—yet they also find a sense of kinship with others who have experienced similar moments of isolation.
Although solitude and self-reliance can be a source of strength, healing, and enlightenment, Murakami shows that accepting the help and love of others is also essential. Both Nakata and Kafka have worked hard to become self-sufficient. Nakata has slowly learned how to survive by himself after losing his memories, leveraging his special talents to make a living. Kafka has strengthened his body and mind in order to strike out on his own as soon as he turns fifteen, escaping the toxic environment of his home. Both characters are rightfully proud of their strength—but living in this way also means that they lack meaningful relationships, and are especially vulnerable in moments of danger. Because he is elderly and disabled, Nakata has difficulty carrying out his mission. It takes the perceptive eye of Hoshino, a fellow loner, to see Nakata’s talents and help him to put this knowledge into action. Hoshino and Nakata become friends, and through this friendship they learn to rely on one another. By respecting Nakata’s desires and insights as others do not, Hoshino is able to bolster Nakata’s sense of self-worth. Meanwhile, Kafka, a runaway, initially prioritizes personal strength and independence over forming friendships. Though he is initially wary of Sakura and Oshima, soon he realizes that he must rely on them if he hopes to survive in the city, which enables him to meaningful friendships with both characters. Later, his intense relationship with Miss Saeki allows him to feel both first love and the sting of loss. Slowly, he begins to form connections that not only help him to thrive and grow, but that eventually help him process his deep sense of loneliness, caused by his mother’s abandonment.
In addition to relying on inner strength and the love of friends, characters must also make peace with the loss of loved ones in order to be truly self-sufficient. By the end of the novel, Kafka has shed his identity as a reclusive runaway, having formed deep attachments with those around him. At the pinnacle of this transformation, Kafka confronts the ghost of Miss Saeki. At her command, he accepts that his mother and sister loved him even though they left him behind, and he chooses to forgive them. After this moment of redemption, Kafka is able to leave the haunted woods and face and return to his day-to-day life. In this way, Murakami shoes that attachment to—or resentment of—lost loved ones can stand in the way of personal growth and self-sufficiency. Like Kafka, Miss Saeki is haunted by the loss of a loved one. But unlike Kafka, Miss Saeki is unable to overcome the pain of losing her childhood sweetheart, and feels perpetually incomplete. When her relationship with Kafka fails to fill that void, she realizes that she will never truly be able to overcome her loneliness, and her heart gives out. Thus, Murakami shows that dwelling too strongly on lost loved ones prevents the formation of new, sustaining relationships.
For Murakami, self-sufficiency is a complicated virtue. Although personal strength and independence are worth striving for, paradoxically, it is only possible to achieve self-sufficiency through an acceptance of the support of others, and a recognition of the ways in which others’ lives and actions have meaningfully impacted one’s own life, for better or worse. Murakami makes a distinction between different kinds of self-sufficiency, showing that commitment to independence must not come at the cost of being open to meaningful relationships with others. True maturity comes from a combination of personal strength and making oneself vulnerable to others.
The Virtues of Self-Sufficiency ThemeTracker
The Virtues of Self-Sufficiency Quotes in Kafka on the Shore
“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’m being tested, I tell myself. Oshima spent a few days alone here, too, when he was about my age. He must have been scared out of his wits, same as me. That’s what he meant by solitude comes in different varieties. Oshima knows exactly how I feel being here alone at night, because he’s gone through the same thing, and felt the same emotions.
“Miss Saeki’s life basically stopped at age twenty, when her lover died. No, maybe not age twenty, maybe much earlier…I don’t know the details, but you need to be aware of this. The hands of the clock buried inside her soul ground to a halt then.”
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.
“I used to be normal, just like everybody else. But something happened and I ended up like a container with nothing inside.”
“Yeah, but if you look at it like that we’re all pretty much empty, don’t you think?”
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.”
“But when I listen to this music it’s like Beethoven’s right here talking to me, telling me something like, It’s ok, Hoshino, don’t worry about it. That’s life. I’ve done some pretty awful things in my life too. Not much you can do about it. Things happen. You just got to hang in there.”
“I think that whenever something happens in the future I’ll always wonder—What would Mr. Nakata say about this? What would Mr. Nakata do? I’ll always have someone I can turn to. And that’s kind of a big deal, if you think about it. It’s like part of you will always live inside me.