What Does The Ear Symbolize In Haruki Murakami's Stories?
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, 1Q84, Dance Dance Dance, The Elephant Vanishes, South of the Border, West of the Sun, A Wild Sheep Chase… The list goes on and on.
When I pick up a book written by Haruki Murakami, I refuse to put it back down until I finish it. The stories Murakami writes seem ordinary at first, but turn out to be completely and utterly weird, for lack of better words- he makes compelling characters encounter enigmatic fictional situations in everyday life. For instance, (*spoiler alert*) Aomame in 1Q84 climbs herself into a parallel universe and is tasked a mission by a wealthy elderly woman to murder a cult leader that sexually abuses his own daughter.
But trust me, if you read the novel, it all makes sense.
Murakami’s stories are an art of yin and yang: he juxtaposes themes like beauty and ugliness, good and evil, innocence and vulgarity, men and women, and death and birth. Perhaps Murakami is touching on how things are not necessarily what they may appear to be- a gorgeous, innocent girl may have a dark past, an ugly and mischievous businessman may actually be heartfelt at times, and the world that you live in may in fact be an alternate universe.
The culture of Japan is also very much veiled, and there are subtle meanings hidden beneath small gestures. Japan is a country that values harmony, and consequently there are many rules and regulations to maintain conformity; a peg that sticks out will be hammered down. In contrast, the characters in Murakami’s stories are often alone and overcome obstacles more often than not, on their own. Coming from a culture that values uniformity and group ideology, Murakami’s stories are refreshing to read because he depicts characters not the slightest frightened by solidarity, and that are not ashamed to reveal their darkest and ugliest desires.
A fascinating example of Murakami’s use of contrast is the symbolism of the ear, recurring in many of his stories. In many of Murakami’s stories, the male character fetishes a woman’s ear. Apparently, Murakami “had a thing” for ears at one point in his life, but I wanted to dig a little deeper.
The ear may not be the most attractive feature of a human being, yet, it represents the purity and innocence of the beautiful ear-possessor in Murakami’s stories. At the same time, the ear also represents lust and physical attraction. The example that I most vividly remember is when Tengo in 1Q84 felt a physical attraction towards Fuka-Eri, a teenage literary prodigy with a charming ear. The clash between innocent Fuka-Eri, and the lustful, yet inevitable desire of Tengo clash beautifully in the story, and is a ravishing example of how human instinct overcomes logic and order.
Murakami’s stories are a celebration of freedom from confinement. Reading Murakami’s stories is like that moment when you try to take a step walking down the stairs in the darkness, but suddenly jolt forward in shock as you realize there is in fact no step. As you fall, the adrenaline pumps into your blood and you no longer are afraid, but instead your heart races in excitement as you think about what could possibly happen next. In Murakami’s world, you stumble into a parallel universe that has two moons, or a well of complete darkness, or a bar at the Dolphin Hotel- it's full of wonderful, weird surprises.