After our intense class discussion of After Dark, I decided to come back and do an in-depth analysis of the novel. This novel by far is the most unique one we have read all semester. The fact that everything occurs within one night amazed me. As it was brought to my attention in class by Thomas, The Tempest also took place in a day’s span. But what intrigued me more with this novel is it took place within a couple of hours of night. The novel’s genre is one I found most difficult to decipher. Is it science fiction, a dystopia, speculative fiction? What genre would actually fit for this novel? To me, it appears as if the novel transcends into different genres. Science fiction, an obvious one, is seen throughout the course of nightfall and all the “magic” that takes place. For example, Eri getting sucked into the television and trapped in the room. I also found this to be connected to speculative fiction, as the two genres do not differ much. The dystopia can be seen in general with the “After Dark” part of the novel. When nighttime falls, a whole new world begins. We see things that we do not see occur during the daytime and everything appears as a blur. So what genre is truly suitable for this novel? I see so many different possible genres as the novel unfolds and transcends genre throughout the occurrence of nighttime. This is why I feel the novel is the most unique one we have read. To label it what one genre seems nearly impossible and I like how it challenges me to think of one that is suitable for it.
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Instead of a bang, Haruki Murakami starts After Dark off with the sound of a breath. The first paragraph sets the scene so that we do not know where the story is set geographically, but we do come away with a very good sense of what the city is like. As we discussed in class, the city is described using diction usually reserved to describing bodies. The result is that we come to view the city as a character itself – that is, before we are flung into the quiet world of Mari at the generic Denny’s.
The paragraph begins at the “top” of the body and works its way down, as it starts with “eyes mark the shape of the city.” The city is not literally eye-shaped, but it was eyes that built the city and the way the building glow. From the eyes, we move down to the heart as “countless arteries stretch to the ends of its elusive body, circulating a continuous supply of fresh blood cells…” The “arteries” of the city pump out new and old data, consumables, and contradictions just as they do with the blood. The “fresh blood cells” are representative of the new people that are pumped in and out of the city every day; for example, the Chinese prostitute. “Fresh blood” goes in and our whether the city likes it or not, which is why “all parts of the body flicker and flare up and squirm”. As time goes on in the paragraph, we finally reach the middle of the body where “a monotonous sound that neither rises nor falls but is pregnant with foreboding.” The body of the city is left at the end waiting for the “pregnancy” to come to fruition – just as the readers are waiting for the novel to begin.
The novel After Dark puts a lot of emphasis on the individual worlds that each person lives in, in contrast to the expansive reality that they exist within. The surreal elements in the novel, specifically the use of the television, allow for a direct view into the isolated worlds that each character has created for themselves. The most obvious example is the room on the other side of the television that Eri is transported to where she cannot escape. This represents the deep sleep that plagues her as she isolates herself from the “flesh-and-blood world” which houses her problems, including her inability to connect with her sister (109). Thus, Eri is only able to start to escape her own world and wake up once Mari tries to reconnect to her sister which solves the problem that drove Eri into her own isolated world to begin with. Mari reconnects with her sister in the same way that they first connected when they were children trapped in an elevator where they clung to each other to the point that they shared the same heartbeat. It is there when the darkness hid the flesh-and-blood world and allowed the sisters to connect on a more personal level. The novel may highlight the loneliness and isolation of people as they are trapped in their own individual worlds, but shows hope of an ability to connect with one another beyond the plane of reality.
Very similar to the literature that we have been reading all semester long, one very evident theme present in “After Dark” is alienation. I think that alienation is present in all characters that have so far been introduced, but especially in the main character, Mari. Mari is introduced in the novel by sitting in a Denny’s by herself late at night, reading a book. She is concentrating very hard on reading her book, completely ignoring the environment around her. I think there is something to Mari’s character, as to why she seems to prefer to be alone. It seems that any time she gets other people through the course of the story, she looks for a way to get away as soon as possible. An example of this is when Mari and Kaoru are looking for some time to pass, and Kaoru takes Mari to a bar. Kaoru says “I could really use a nice cold beer. How about you?” Mari replies, “I can’t drink.” Kaoru then says, “So have some juice or something. What the hell, you’ve gotta be someplace killing time till morning” (Murakami, 65). When the two are on their way to the bar, Mari seems a little reluctant to go, but she eventually warms up to Kaoru and starts talking once they order their drinks. I do not completely know why Mari has the tendency to prefer to be alone, but I think that answer will come once we have read the book in its entirety.
Murakami’s novel After Dark has the unique feature of keeping the reader at a distance while still incorporating them into the work as “we”. The reader is never directly involved in the action of the story but is able to relate as their, “point of view, as an imaginary camera, picks up and lingers over things like this in the room. We are invisible, anonymous intruders” (Murakami 33). This same relationship the reader has with the novel can be expanded to how one feels as life happens and passes them by. One feels like, “we are not physically present in the place, and we leave behind no traces” (Murakami 33). It is this disconnection with other human beings and society that grasps the essence of this novel.
These relationships between the characters in the story help to define the “collective entity” of the novel while still showing the individuality of people. Each person with their unique characteristics must all together in this world. Unique to this story though is a character’s ability to not be present in a room, but still linger behind. Perhaps the author is trying to say that even when someone is not physically present we still have the ability to remember and learn from that person. It is these walls, either physical or not, that ultimately define our relations with other people. The novel’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to make the reader question who they are as a person. And what defines being human? One is forced to analyze the unique human feature, the mind.
After Dark by Haruki Murakami is a unique narrative which offers insight into the interior and exterior personality traits of a medley of different characters, all drawn together during the “witching hours” between midnight and early morning. The variances between characters was the most intriguing aspect of the work. Rather between the two main characters, sisters Eri and Mari, the contrast drawn is striking and though-provoking. By utilizing the “we” pluralistic form of narrative, Murakami invokes a collective ideal, reminiscent of a camera recording minute details in these many characters’ lives.
By engaging this omniscient, pluralistic narrative, Murakami adds a sense of detachment while simultaneously remaining permeatingly intimate. In this style, it is difficult to determine if there is a central protagonist. By administering this narration technique, each of the many characters is given due service for the events that they are currently experiencing. Additionally, by invoking this style, the plenitude of characters are similarly united despite their differences. By encompassing this style, Murakami is suggesting that although people are inherently different, there is a bond which connects them all; the bond of humanity. I think that this is a main thematic element of the text which is only strengthened by the choice to narrate the text in a pluralistic format. The relationship between Mari and Eri exemplifies this thematic element. The importance of attachment and human-to-human connection is vital to this narrative and is shown both implicitly and explicitly. “The important thing is that during that whole time in the dark, Eri was holding me. And it wasn’t just some ordinary hug. She squeezed me so hard our two bodies felt as if they were melting into one. She never loosened her grip for a second. It felt as though if we separated the slightest bit, we would never see each other in this world again” (Murakami 180).
While reading this novel, I first found it interesting that the entire story took place in one night. I can not recall reading any novel that took place over one night or day, likewise. I found this sort of significant to why the author made the novel occur this way. As I read further, I discovered alienation to be a theme of the novel by seeing the issue between Eri and Mari. We see the novel taking place as part in reality and in part, the dream. It opens up with Mari spending her night reading in a Denny’s restaurant. There she meets a few individuals, including Takahashi (who we get an idea from at the end that Mari is involved with romantically) and the story falls into play. Alienation occurs as the eerie dream unravels with their hopefulness to reach dawn as they are “trapped” in the darkness and we learn of Eri and Mari’s relationship problem.
Alienation is also found between the two sisters, Eri and Mari. Eri is the beautiful sister, a model since a very young age, and who their parents see as the “better” sister. On the other hand, Mari can be seen as the intelligent sister, the bookworm, not so beautiful but has plenty of brains. One of them struggles under the pressure of being perfect, whilst the other suffers from lack of attention. Both problems persist with the sisters, without one of the other realizing each other’s problem. Hence, they become alienated from one another. Takahashi, who knows both Eri and Mari, provides the bridge between the two girls. He listens to Mari slowly but surely opening up about her and her sister’s complicated intertwined relationship. Both believe the life of the other to be easier; Eri thinks Mari has it easy because she has no pressure on her, and Mari believes Eri has a simpler life because she is perfect. Takahashi tries to dismiss the alienation between the two at the end of the novel by helping Mari to make the first move to reconcile herself with Eri. We can see Takahashi as the “hero” of the novel, well the relationship between the two sisters (a main concern of the novel) by helping them to get their relationship back on the right track.
After Dark‘s revolving set of characters provide plenty of contrasting scenes and emotions in the novel. Each character brings about his or her own mood as soon as they enter, like a character’s theme music in a movie. When Kaoru is “on-screen,” we know to expect big, bold brashness, but with Mari, we expect quiet and stillness. Takahashi, on the other hand, bring an almost non-stop stream of thought and questions from the very start. Despite their differences, all three characters are able to blend with each other and give us great interactions. The one thing that accompanies all of their interactions is food. Mari and Takahashi seem to be constantly eating when they’re together, and Kaoru’s personality is seen in what she drinks.
Mari’s first appearance in Denny’s tells us a great deal about her. She is drinking coffee with displeasure, as she is only doing so because “that is the role of the customer” (Murakami 10). Instead of food, she is instead ingesting the book she is reading by “biting off and chewing one line at a time” (10). Mari is at the restaurant for companionship with her book, not for any particular food reason, unlike Takahashi. In fact, the only reason he is there is that “the only thing worth eating at Denny’s is the chicken salad” (14). Despite his professed hunger, he dwells over his meal by chatting at (not really with) Mari. Takahashi loves food, surely; but he also loves conversation. He even goes so far as to compare himself with food in that he’s “more of a side-dish – cole slaw or French fries” (19). Kaoru herself sticks to beer and peanuts; she does not require food to be a starting point for conversation, but nor is she avoiding it, as Mari is. The only other thing she ingests is cigarette smoke, which Mari admits “looks much more natural” (64).
Takahashi’s motto “walk slowly; drink lots of water” (146) could probably be applied to him, Mari, and Kaoru – as well as us as readers! Mari may be right about growth hormones in chicken, or mercury in tuna – but I couldn’t deny that I wasn’t craving chicken salad and toast after I was done with After Dark.
I liked Kaoru’s character. She was a very strong woman. I liked the fact that she had a different appearance than everybody else, most notably her short, blond hair. She was physically very large, so that gave her an edge in dealing with people in her line of work. Unafraid to confront a man (a supposed “tough guy”), she exhibits a very matter-of-fact attitude which she probably acquired her years as a wrestler. This is seen when she gets her money from the man on the motorcycle in front of Hotel Alphaville: “Ya know, fella, I haven’t been paid for my hotel room.” (45) She even admits to Mari what her life is like, saying “Hell, you can see I’m more like a bouncer or bodyguard.” (58) Bouncers and bodyguards have been (still are) men’s roles, obviously because the nature of the job requires strength and build.
Short hair and large physical stature are male characteristics, giving Kaoru a somewhat “manly” appearance. She also was in a position of leadership. The nature of the business aside, she still played a “boss” role, being in charge of the entire hotel. She also exhibited masculine traits in her manner of speech, which was very direct and to the point: “Ya know, fella” (as mentioned before) “Man!” (46) “I could really use a beer.” (51) Of course, women say these words, too, but combined with the physical description of Kaoru, her mannerisms, and her position at the hotel, this type of speech lends to the overall “masculinization” of her character.
Murakami conveys her opposition toward commercialism in After Dark with her portrayal of Eri Asai, and her fall into a dark, lonely, and entrapping alternative universe. The room Eri gets sucked into acts as a symbol for her own inner turmoil as an objectified young woman, victimized by the shallow institution of commercialism. The grim narrative elucidates Murakami’s disdain for the industry and its effect on women.
When Eri awakes in this alternate universe, she immediately “verifies that she is her usual self: a beautiful face and well-shaped breasts. I’m a lump of flesh, a commercial asset” (Murakami 110). This indicates how sadly conscious Eri is of what defines who she is: these transitory and superficial traits. One of the most indicative statements of Eri’s desolation comes from Meri when she says “Pills and fortune telling and dieting: nobody can stop her when it comes to any of those things” (Murakami 119). Her drug abuse and obsession with fortune-telling indicates how damaged Eri is, and how she is trying desperately to fill a void. How she seeks to fill this void is how countless young women try to, by becoming these glossy photographs that have the power to draw in masses, an obsession which serves as the foundation for commercialism. What commercialism cannot seem to sell to these young women is depth. When Eri is first seen in the novel, her room is described to have only a few things, including large magazines, and “as the room’s only decorative touch, five photographs in small frames are lined up on a shelf, all of them photos of Eri Asai. She is is alone in all of them” (Murakami 26). This immediately implies that she is superficial and self-centered. When Eri is sleeping, she is described to be completely beautiful and motionless, as if she were a mannequin. Eri’s vacuity is clear from the fact that she is never given a voice in the novel except for when she is in the alternative universe, and instead she is only talked about and talked for.
Just as how a television has sucked Eri in, media continuously sucks young girls into living a vacuous lifestyle for their capital gain. With her Prada bag, magazine shoots, and “natural radiance”, it is clear that Eri is beautiful, glamourous, and loved in this reality, but in the alternative reality that functions as her inner turmoil, she is alone in this inescapable realm of commercialism (Murakami 194). From this vindictive symbolism, Murakami presents her abhorrece for an industry that manipulates young women for financial gain, as well as its influence on society to alienate bright women like Meri.