I have noticed the prevalence of food in many of the books I have recently read. In some cases, it is the most obvious topic of the novel, as in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. In Blu’s Hanging by Lois food is an underlying theme. This novel seems to recognize that food is the source of life; the three main characters each interact with it.
The children in Blu’s Hanging use food as a source of comfort after their mother’s death. Perhaps they subconsciously connect the life that food brings with the life of their mother. The brother, Blu, reacts with food by over consuming it. He eats until “he feels sick and full” (12). It leaves him with a numb feeling that helps him cope. Ivah, the oldest sister of the family, is put in charge of feeding the family after her mother’s death. Finally, Maisie, the youngest sibling, has stopped talking to people as a reaction to the death of her mother. It takes a Betty Crocker cake box for her to talk. Her teacher asks her to read it out loud and surprisingly she does. Perhaps it is the food that gives her enough comfort with the situation to read aloud to other people.
It also seems that types of food that the family eats improve as the novel progress. In the beginning their main source of nutrition is mayonnaise bread. They still eat food that is cheap as the novel progresses; however, Ivah gets more resourceful with the food she cooks which allows the family to eat a variety of foods. Perhaps this symbolizes their gradual relinquishing of grief for their mothers death.
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.