The Isolated Iceburg
“The Ice Man”, by Haruki Murakami, is the story of a 20 year old Japanese woman who falls deeply in love with an Ice Man. Everyone seems to avoid the Ice Man, but the woman is strangely attracted to him. The woman and the Ice Man begin to date, and eventually get married. The woman’s family and friends are so ashamed of the marriage that they stop talking to the woman completely. Although she does love him, the woman begins to grow bored of the repetition and isolation the Ice Man has brought her. She decides they should go to the South Pole for vacation, because she believes the Ice Man will enjoy it there.
When they reach the South Pole the woman becomes even more isolated than she was in Japan. She also gets pregnant with the Ice Man’s child, and they never leave. Haruki Murakami analyzes the consequences of marrying someone form a different class and ethnicity in Japan’s endogamous society.
The woman is infatuated with the Ice Man, even though no one approves of him. The woman gives up everything because of her love for the Ice Man. The Ice Man is looked down upon, as if he was “a ghost or somebody with a contagious disease.”(Ann Charters, 967) Because of Japan’s insularity, the Ice Man is completely alienated. The Ice Man is a forbidden love for the woman, and she abandons everything to be with him.
According to the social norms, the woman should have married someone within her same race and social status. No one ever “really accepted [Ice Man], and so they never really accepted that [the woman] was married to him.”(Ann Charters, 970) The woman broke social norms by marrying the Ice Man, and becomes severed from society because of it. The Ice Man is of a different ethnicity and class than the woman, which is why the society frowns upon the marriage. The climax of the story is the trip to the South Pole.
The woman decides to go to the South Pole because she believes that the Ice Man will be accepted there. The South Pole is where the Ice Man belongs, it is his home. The Ice Man being a different ethnicity and class in an insular society is the external secondary conflict. The Ice Man undergoes a fundamental change when they decide to go to the South Pole. The woman notices that “his breath [became] even whiter than before; and even more frost accumulated on his fingers than before.”(Ann Charters, 971) The Ice Man becomes even more foreign when they begin to plan the trip to the South Pole.
The primary conflict is the woman’s internal struggle to abandon everyone she knows and loves for the Ice Man. The woman completes her self-isolation by going to the South Pole. However, “all of the South Poleans were friends with [the Ice Man], but they couldn’t understand [the woman’s] speech.”(Ann Charters, 972) This shows that the woman becomes even more isolated that she was in Japan. The woman is left with no family or friends, just ice.
“The Ice Man” is set in mid 20th century Tokyo, Japan. Japan has always had class and marriage traditions, and Haruki Murakami reflects this in the setting of the story. For example, when the woman sees the Ice Man for the first time, “everyone had gone out for an afternoon of skiiing, the lobby was deserted like a ghost town.”(Ann Charters, 967) This is the first time that the woman leaves her friends for the Ice Man, and the setting foreshadows the isolation the woman is facing by getting involved with the Ice Man.
By always putting the Ice man in a isolated setting, Murakami shows that the society never fully accepts him. The woman and the Ice Man “rented a little apartment, and the Ice Man got a job at a meat storehouse to cover our expenses.” (Ann Charters, 969) This shows that the Ice Man works a blue collar job, and is a working-class man. The “little apartment” setting shows that the couple does not live an extravagant life and the man works to merely pay the bills.
In Japan, “there are norms, standards, or models to which men and woman are expected to conform to if they wish to interact appropriately and acceptably with others.” (Marriage in Contemporary Japan, 55) The Ice Man does not conform to societies standards, and there fore is unable to acceptably interact with others. When the woman marries the Ice Man, she too is breaking cultural standards, which causes society to reject her.
“Within the framework of Japanese society, it is widely accepted that the salaryman, often referred to as a ‘corporate warrior’ represents the hegemonic masculine role-model.” (Marriage in Contemporary Japan, 56) The Ice Man is far from a “corporate warrior”, he does not fit the role of a masculine Japanese man. The woman most likely comes from a well off family, who does not approve of low-class foreigners. Her parents would have wanted her to marry “a salaryman who can pay a female to serve him.”(Marriage in Contemporary Japan, 57) The woman was expected to marry someone that would provide her with money, while she would take care of the children and other house work, as was the norm in early 20th century Japan. Modern day Japan has begun to break the confines of previous endogamous traditions.