Haruki Muraki’s Norwegian Wood: A Psychoanalytic Reading

Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood demands a psychoanalytic reading as it basically circles around the characters’ youth and psyche. The novel possesses a number of themes, i.e. loneliness; isolation; memory; death and life; alienation; mourning and melancholy; suicide; musical motif; existential crisis; lack and loss; sexuality, etc. and interestingly most of them have an attachment with the human psyche. So definitely it demands a psychoanalytic reading. On that account, this article aims at observing various events, characters, consequences, etc. in the novel through using several psychoanalytic lenses provided by Sigmund Freud, Jacque Lacan, psychiatric associations, some other psychiatrists and so on.

Notion of dependence and independence

Norwegian Wood demonstrates the notion of dependence and independence among characters. Doi Takeo, a Japanese psychologist, refers to this sort of dependence as amae (Dil J., 2016). That amae is strongly related to the novel’s three main aspects: suicide, sexuality, and alienation. In that case, suicide is a form of reaching the real; alienation is a form of escape from the reality, while sexuality is a form of exploitation, growing up, and healing.

Kizuki’s Suicide

Kizuki’s suicide incident is the core issue of the novel, and he has done it unexpectedly

with no indication, no suicide note, and no motive.

(Murakami, 2000, p. 30)

It is entirely a mysterious happening for the people around him. In that matter, Kizuki does not even have any contentious issues with his family; school, friends, especially Naoko and Toru. With such milieu, the death of the 17 years old Kizuki becomes a question mark that remains unanswered until the end of the story. Kizuki’s instinctive move, which was done without any particular intention, can be defined as a basal action opposite to the symbolic mechanism in the society.

Freud’s Id, Ego & Superego

Usually, in a relationship, sexuality develops gradually. In the Freudian term, it is called “Libido,” the sexual impulse. According to Sigmund Freud, libido is a part of the id and is the driving force of sexual energy. The id, Freud believes, is a reservoir of “unconscious.” It craves for pleasure and demands the immediate satisfaction of its desires. It is the Id that serves as the source of our wants and impulses. Naoko undergoes a problematic Id formation during her relationship because awareness regarding sexuality never takes place as there was no “sense of lack” in their relationship.

Lacanian concept of lack & loss

Jacques Lacan states that lack is what causes desire to arise, and in the relationship between Naoko and Kizuki, there was no “Sense of Lack.”

Naoko states that we had almost no sense of the oppressiveness of sex … that ordinary kids experience when they reach puberty.

Here, “oppressiveness” is the superego that regulates and forbids to do certain staffs. So, they did not have any such sexual oppression. They were into each other

as if they were physically joined somewhere.

During puberty, generally, a realization regarding physical changing, sexuality, etc. emerges in a boy and a girl’s mind. But, in case of Naoko and Kizuki that did not happen as they used to have each other from their childhood and generally, people around a boy or a girl indoctrinate him or her about the puberty period’s principles but, in case of Naoko and Kizuki, there was no one to tell them regarding those fundamentals. So, they remained in the innocence period and never wanted to surpass it and enter into the Experience’s circumference, where they will be aware of the taboo subjects like sexuality and so forth.

But, this couple had no strong awareness of them

and they were in a fantasy that they were still kids, and that created the Peter Pan syndrome in them. And then, the sudden death of Kizuki takes place. The death of Kizuki ignites an intense psychological perplexity in both Naoko and Toru. But, Naoko suffers the most as she and Kizuki were there together from their childhood. Naoko is unable to accept that incident. She feels like a fish out of water among the people around her and afterward suffers from schizophrenia that leads her to commit suicide.

An inseparable psychological and emotional connection exists between Naoko and Kizuki. Naoko’s existence becomes a mere living without Kizuki. This traumatic experience impacts her so much that she develops a psychological condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

American Psychiatric Association explains PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a severe accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or other violent personal assault.

Naoko can barely get past the thought of her deceased boyfriend because much of her past memories were occupied by his presence.

Naoko says we were like kids who grew up naked on a desert island. If we got hungry, we’d just pick a banana; if we got lonely, we’d go to sleep in each other’s arms. She also says as if we were physically joined somewhere. 

The sudden demise of Kizuki ignites an intense psychological perplexity in both Naoko and Toru. But, it is Naoko who suffers the most as she and Kizuki were there together from their childhood, and the emotional intensity can be assumed through her words.

Toru says regarding Naoko and Kizuki that as with most couples who have been together since childhood, there was a casual openness about the relationship between Naoko and Kizuki and little sense that they wanted to be alone together. They were always visiting each other’s homes and eating or playing mah-jong with each other’s families.

(Murakami 27)

So, Naoko is unable to accept that abrupt tragedy, and she feels like a fish out of water among the people around her and afterward suffers from schizophrenia, a psychosomatic disorder that leads her to commit suicide with a view to getting rid of that unbearable psychological anguish.

For Naoko, she and Kizuki are one, and they are inseparable. So, Kizuki’s unexpected suicide shocked her the most. She cannot get past the thought of her deceased boyfriend because much of her past memories were occupied by his presence. Another shocking incident for her is her sister’s suicide. According to Naoko, her sister is more talented than she is. So, her sister’s suicide intensifies her own sense of meaninglessness about her own entity. 

Naoko’s existential crisis and spatial shelters

She starts to suffer from an existential crisis as well, and the first spatial shelter Naoko takes through getting admitted into Tokyo College.

She says to Toru, know why I chose this place? She said with a smile. Because nobody from home was coming here. We were all supposed to go somewhere more chic.

(Murakami 33)

In the house, there lies the memories of her sister’s suicide, which haunts her. In college, everyone is sexually open, shows demonstration, can communicate, and so on. So, there are a number of differences Naoko can find in her. This sense of alienation pushes her towards the wall, and it generates from her sense of loss (boyfriend, sister). Then she gradually has estranged herself from the very society she lives in.

Her twentieth birthday is so painful for her as she does not want to exceed the teenage period in which her boyfriend died. She is looking for greater pain, and she does something hastily, and that is her intercourse with Toru. Apparently, she was not really someone who was into this, but she does this, and it even problematizes the problem. What she never did with her boyfriend, she does it with Toru, which intensifies her existential crisis. After that, it becomes impossible for her to go in front of Toru.

Naoko even splits the world into two. One is her world, and another one is others. She tells Toru that your and my world are not the same. So, after escaping from one place to another, she creates her own imaginary homeland. Actually, gradually she has become a hysterical patient as

Freud states that the hysterical patients tend to isolate themselves from the world to release the burden of the unhappy fates they got. Hence, Freud emphasized that the cause of hysterical conversion phenomena related to the extremely unpleasant memories or ideas for conscious awareness are repressed into the unconscious and transformed into physical symptoms in order to solve the unbearable conflicts.

(North, 2015)

And in the end, she left again for the final spatial shelter, which is the Ami Sanatorium where ultimately she commits suicide.

Bipolar personality pattern

What happened to Naoko had a significant impact on the personal life of Toru. In Toru, readers can find a bipolar personality pattern. On one hand, Toru is very much attached to Naoko, and on the other hand, one part of his soul is very much attached to Midori. So, here Toru’s split self is evident, one side is very much captivated by an introvert girl that is Naoko, and another side is towards an extrovert girl that is Midori. Besides, Toru has an intense infatuation towards Naoko, and yet, because Naoko’s response could not always satisfy his need, he looked for an escape by sleeping with any other girls. To conclude, almost all the characters of Norwegian Wood can be interpreted through the psychoanalytic lens. Even Haruki Murakami himself can be observed through the same lens as he encapsulates the contemporary Japanese society and its young generation’s psychic situation at that time under the spell of cultural assimilation, ethical & moral system; political and economic situation and so on. So, by and large, Norwegian Wood is saturated with psychoanalytical aspects.

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