The Elephant Vanishes

November 30, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Sleep is a short story set in Japan from Haruki Murakami’s anthology, The Elephant Vanishes. The passage chosen for commentary is extracted from Sleep and involves a female protagonist. Located on my page 105 to 106 of the anthology, the action in the passage takes place inside the protagonist’s home at night, and the passage is narrated in first person and in present time. Within this passage, Murakami illustrates the protagonist’s convoluted conception of sleep by manipulating the construction of the passage, the protagonist’s persona and by presenting symbolisms of sleep. It is essential to explore these significant literary aspects of the passage as they enable readers to understand the protagonist’s process of thoughts and actions.

Murakami develops the protagonist’s ambiguous chain of thoughts by effectively representing sleep as a parallel between death and escapism. The author uses conversational tone by writing in first person and presenting discussions of various ideas in order to portray the protagonist guiding herself through the notion of sleep. Line 25, “No, that would be too terrible”, demonstrates the protagonist’s conversational and self-discussion about death. Murakami introduces the idea of sleep as a “wakeful darkness” in the line, “A wakeful darkness: What it called to mind was death” (11-12). The correlation between, “a wakeful darkness” and “death”, illustrates that when sleeping, a state of unconsciousness, one is still awake. The protagonist believes this condition of unconsciousness yet awake is equivalent to that of dying. Not settling with her conclusion of sleep, the protagonist further question “what was death?” (16), illustrating her uncertainty about the concept of sleep.

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In Sleep, Murakami introduces the subject of uncertainty as it aids in developing the protagonist’s personality and in addition, it also metaphorically represents the world, specifically Japan, as one small village that is uncertain of its identity. This metaphor of uncertainty also reflects one of the preoccupying themes of Japanese literature, which is what it means to be Japanese, especially in an era that has seen the decline of traditional culture. Japanese cultural reference points are now almost exclusively Western. The influence of Western culture is evident in Sleep as the protagonist drank an alcoholic spirit originated from Europe and “gulped down the brandy that was left in my [her] glass” (45). Murakami manipulates the question “what was death?” (16) to portray the protagonist as a character who constantly evaluates her thoughts, which in the end consequently leads her back to the start, where all her thoughts began. Murakami reveals the modern Japanese society as people who are uncertain about their culture, traditions and are slowly losing its identity by presenting several questions throughout the passage and introducing the subject of uncertainty.

The protagonist shifts to elucidating the idea of death in lines thirteen and onwards after focusing on the depiction of sleep. In the beginning of the passage the protagonist explains sleep as death by stating “I had conceived of sleep as a kind of model for death” (17), however she soon portrays death as sleep in the lines “I had imagined death as an extensions of sleep” (18). The theory of death as sleep is further emphasised when Murakami employs diction, “eternal rest” (20) describing that when one dies, their mind is in a place of absolute emptiness just like sleep.

The protagonist’s convoluted thoughts of sleep and death continue to develop and intensify as she establishes death as an analogy of escapism. The protagonist never settles on one idea of sleep and death for she is so absorbed in all her complicated thoughts. Since death and sleep are portrayed as being the same, the protagonist further evaluates the notion of sleep, stating that death is escapism. The idea of escapism is evident when the protagonist states, “If the state of death was not to be a rest…what was going to redeem this…life of ours, so fraught with exhaustion” (26-27). The protagonist reinforces the idea of escapism when she expresses “Maybe death is a kind of rest” (31) from reality. However the word “maybe” position readers to recognise that the protagonist is still filled with ambiguity and she also struggles to come to terms with her current physical state. Like all of Murakami’s works, he effectively presents his characters as shifting effortlessly between the surface reality of a conventional, modelled life and the sensitized imagination. Murakami presents the protagonist from Sleep, trapped in her thoughts and cannot return back to reality. Murakami further confirms the protagonist’s ambiguous frame of mind by writing, “Death can be anything at all” (33), which consequently sends the protagonist back to where her thoughts initially began.

By distinctively presenting this passage as circular in structure and setting transitions between key notions and tones of the passage, Murakami emphasises the protagonist’s circling thoughts and concepts of sleep. In the first paragraph of the passage Murakami gives readers an overview of the protagonist’s condition, positioning readers to understand that the protagonist’s “sleeplessness” (6) has been occurring for “seventeen days and seventeen nights” (8). The use of repetition and the short length sentences in these lines develops an emphatic and intense tone. The tone enables Murakami to further stress the abnormality of the event by writing, “Not one wink of sleep… A long, long time” (7, 8). These lines foreshadow the idea that although the protagonist is awake she is however in a state of unconsciousness.

In the passage extracted from Sleep, Murakami establishes the protagonist as a person who lacks certainty in her views and beliefs for she constantly changes her mind. The protagonist’s lack of certainty and confidence is evident when the protagonist constantly questions herself, “what should I do?” (43) and “Was I about to die?” (13). Initially, the protagonist believes she is dying, however the protagonist later suggests that her current state is a “deep, endless, wakeful darkness” (22) something that “belonged to a different category” (22) to sleep and death. These various thoughts again demonstrate the protagonist’s is filled with doubts and she hesitates to reach a definite conclusion about sleep. Murakami effectively utilises imagery and satire in the diction of “wakeful darkness”, demonstrating to readers a state of mind that is physically alive yet is lifeless, which ironically is contradicting of one another.

Murakami alters the grave and mystifying tone with words such as “death” (18) “blackout” (20), “terrible” (25) and “exhaustion” (28) to a slightly witty tone. This began as the protagonist ironically exclaims, “Except the ones who are dead… No one living knows what death is like…” (28-29). This statement is intellectual in both conception and execution and demonstrates the protagonist’s amusement and cleverness towards the issue of sleep. This therefore develops a witty tone. Murakami purposely writes “no one living knows what death is like” (28-29) to clarify that it is impossible for living humans to grasp the truth about sleep and death. Murakami does not lend his stories to traditional analysis, he instead sculpts Sleep as a mysterious story that defies solutions or analysis by employing such literary features like diction, specific word choices and metaphors. Therefore no matter how extensive the protagonist’s evaluation of sleep is, the protagonist will not find the answers.

Murakami depicts the convoluted state of mind of the protagonist by guiding readers through circling ideas throughout the passage. Murakami underlines the protagonist’s powerlessness to set back into reality by symbolising her perception in the lines “my [her] eyes were still shut tight…I had lost the power to open them” (35-37). This line also confirms that the protagonist has lost the power to control her complex thoughts. Murakami effectively presents this passage as a circular structure to ensure that readers are exposed to numerous concepts of sleep however in the end readers realise that, all concepts are guesses and “the best guess is still a guess” (30). Not only does Murakami present the protagonist’s circling thoughts, Murakami reiterate to readers the uncertain mindset of the protagonist by ending with the question, “if to die meant being eternally awake and staring into the darkness, what should I do?” (42-43). By climaxing with the question “what should I do”, Murakami highlights and reinforces the subject of vagueness and complexity for the protagonist has been running in circle of thoughts all this time. In reflection to the Japanese themes and Murakami literature works, Murakami purposely writes Sleep to point out not only how much society does not know but moreover how much society cannot know.

Sleep is one of the post modern short stories from Haruki Murakami contemporary Japanese fiction, The Elephant Vanishes. Within the passage extracted from Sleep, Murakami displays the female protagonist’s complicated mindset and her struggle to grasp her indistinct thoughts. The protagonist forces herself to evaluate her circle of thoughts, all of which involves the parallels of sleep, death and escapism. Murakami develops a model of encircling ideas of sleep, death and escapism by manipulating the structure of the passage and in addition, utilising literary devices such as symbolisms, tone, diction and repetition. As a result of the structure of the passage and the utilisation of various literary devices, Murakami allows readers to comprehend the protagonist’s ‘circle of thoughts’ and emphasises that the protagonist’s ideas are all indefinable.


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