Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Introspective Exploration of Suicidal Intent (Landscape with Flatiron)

(This is an essay I wrote last year for an English class. It was written from the interpretation that the subject was a cautionary tale warning about suicide. I suspect, however, that the author was instead glorifying it. That angle would be too triggering to write about, though.)


I have chosen to write this essay about Haruki Murakami’s Landscape with Flatiron, a short story about three characters in Japan and their experiences one night at a bonfire, symbolic perhaps of their own passion for life. The story features a surreal narrative in which the two main characters contemplate their own preoccupations with the concept of death. It is my speculation that Murakami was attempting to use an allegorical narrative to showcase the suicidal mentality of depressed individuals, using events set after Japan’s devastating Kobe earthquake to create a strong impact in the minds of his intended readership: the Japanese public.


The Kobe earthquake, more officially known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake, caused significant damage to the city of Kobe in the year 1995. As Kobe is central to the production of Japan’s economic wealth, the natural disaster caused extremely adverse aftereffects on a national scale. The substantial loss of life presented by the earthquake was alone enough to negatively affect the Japanese people to a good degree. Social impact of the event is explored in Landscape with Flatiron, in which character Miyake hints at ill events in his past that may have been influenced directly from the destruction brought forth by the earthquake.


The preoccupation the two main characters, Miyake and Junko, have with death carries the implication of depression. When someone is in a state of depression, their natural will to live becomes weak, and death is – perhaps paradoxically – seen by the individual as an escape from the suffering present in life. It is often that the sufferer looks upon death with an air of beauty, and regard themselves as superior to people around them because only they are able to see their viewpoints as an intuitive truth. This is seen in the character Junko, who describes her interpretation of Jack London’s To Build a Fire as about a man seeking death (instead of the traditional view holding that the man was desperate to live) and refuses to believe otherwise. The depressant quality of the alcohol present in the whiskey the characters consume is implied to be responsible for the surreal introspection that takes place, in which Junko and Miyake explore their suicidal thoughts and become resolute in their decision to die together.


The narrative is quite likely to be highly allegorical, as is suggested by Miyake’s statement that he can only paint things that stand for other things. From this standpoint, the previous events suddenly take on new meaning, and the existential tale becomes that much more complicated. The bonfire, chief element in the narrative, is a probable source of alternate meaning. I personally have interpreted it as an allegorical representation of a person’s passion for life. This is supported mainly by Miyake’s statement that when the fire goes out, Junko will wake up whether or not she wishes. I speculate in turn that by waking up, Miyake is referring to dying, a view supported by the context, in which he and Junko are discussing suicide. When Junko then goes to sleep, it is implied she does not wake up in the traditional sense, providing an ironic twist to the sentiment.


In conclusion, I believe author Haruki Murakami to have been depicting the suicidal mentality as a result of depression, using the Kobe earthquake as a catalyst. Depression is a common problem, and suicides among the Japanese people are frequently publicized, making the issue especially relevant. Taking advantage of the known effects of alcohol, I believe Murakami to have portrayed suicidal behavior in a manner in which it could be readily understood by the main public in order to cast light on the taboo subject. The story’s allegorical nature gives it a complexity that increases its value as an informative piece of literature.

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