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Women and Archetypes
I haven't gotten very far in TWUBC but so far I’ve noticed that there have only been female characters other than the narrator. There is Kumiko, his wife, the woman on the phone, and the 16 year old girl who was helping him find his cat. What I found a bit different about Kumiko was that she is the “breadwinner” in the relationship since Toru doesn’t have a job. She even brings up the option of him remaining a stay-at-home husband. And continuing to do housework and run errands. This is a bit different from the common stereotype that the man has to be the one who supports their wife. So far I don’t really see Kumiko fitting any of the four female archetypes. She’s not an old hag or a seductress, she doesn’t necessarily seem like an innocent virgin and she’s not a mother. The other two women in the book could both arguably be seductresses. The woman on the telephone for obvious reasons since she is literally trying to seduce Toru. The 16 year old could be because of how she smokes. This could be a temptation for Toru since he is trying to quit smoking. She is also described as attractive, and has porn magazines and talks about taboo topics very nonchalantly, so perhaps these characteristics are trying to paint her out as that archetype, I’m not completely sure though. Do you think that the lack of clear archetypes is deliberate? What do you guys think about the women in the book and how they’re portrayed?
I think that the lack of clear archetypes could be brought back to the narrator and his position within all of this. Toru is describing these women as he sees them, in the closest way to his true feelings. He sees his wife as a strong woman because he respects her and he's grateful for what she does to support his household. He holds a strong distaste for the woman on the phone not because of a belief that she's a harlot, but because she's interfering with his pleasant marriage and daily routine. Toru respects the 16-year-old girl, if not believes that she's a little odd. She's not a seductress in the traditional sexual sense, but rather a force persuading Toru to participate in activities he shouldn't (i.e. smoking, breaking into an abandoned house). The archetypes or lack of them that we see in this novel have to be taken in the context that these are all Toru's true thoughts. If another narrator were speaking about these events with the usage of "boku," would we view the archetypes differently?
I think it's interesting to think of the women in terms of their potential archetypes, but also recall that the archetypes I outlined are of traditional predominantly-Western tales. That is not to say that Asian archetypal patterns are hugely different, but we should make room for the differences. That said, I think the bigger deviation from these patterns is because Murakami moves from a Modern literary mode (early 20th Century classical-meaning generating themes) to post-modern (which I'll talk about it an upcoming 1-2 videos).
We can see the postmodernists coming from the same theoretical path as post-structuralists (Derrida and everyone who follows). It is not the presence of these patterns and archetypes that are significant, but perhaps their absence. That is, what are people missing? What meaning can they carry that is reliable?
When I consider May, Kumiko, phone-sex-lady, Creta, etc. I wonder what meaning is absent from them, what purposefulness is missing. I might ask the same of Toru himself. What kind of male (Japanese male, at that!) holds no job and carries no real responsibility? Noboru almost says as much about him (though the names of his economic theories say a great deal over how much we should value his opinion).
To echo Grace's idea, these women are near to/drawn to Toru, too, that are empty. Toru finds them/sees them this way. Toru's "infidelity" early in the marriage was for a young woman who needed to "recharge her batteries," get 'refilled,' as it were. [Toru, btw, then fulfills the same function as The Golden Day of IM, where one of the vets insists he comes to "charge my batteries."]
I think it's interesting how we can draw parallels with Toru and IM. They both seem to have the naive kind of personality and constant existence of unawareness which is further amplified as we learn more and more about the characters themselves. I feel both narratives seem to give off the idea of a metaphorical "obstacle course" with meaning. The main character is kind of trusted into a reality where he is constantly being poked and prodded and tested and we somehow always seem to be rooting for them in their corner as the novels progress. It also seems that almost all of these female characters in wind up bird are the obstacles that Toru is going to navigate and be thrown in many directions. I think Murakami has an interesting way of getting his ideas across through this method as he is very blunt but at the same time rather unclear as to each characters intentions and motives. It makes me wonder how our "protagonist" will change throughout as he is thrown to the dogs a bit.
True, bigbruh, to a degree, all modern literary protagonists are on a search for something, and they are ironically limited in what they currently understand. It's the Campbell monomyth here, of course, and each makes his way towards an Ultimate Boon, or truth. For IM, that truth is something akin to a horrific enlightenment of invisibility and the trap of history. We don't know about Toru's, yet, but there is something different at work in the monomyth between modern works (Ellison, Conrad, James, Abbott, etc.) and postmodern works (Murakami).
The modernist fable moves us towards a boon, but the postmodern does not necessarily have this as an objective: the postmodernist has realized that such dreams are merely this--manufactured illusions. Therefore, the epiphany or enlightenment moment may never come as we traditionally understand it. Instead, that search may be for a "way of seeing" or a new lens through which we may deconstruct the world. This happens not through a mystery of solving puzzles/having learning experiences/combating evil, etc. but often through an assembly or juxtaposition of seemingly disconnected pieces. This compels us to see the world differently and, if we're very lucky, more constructively.
@graceirla I think the lack of clear archetypes is very strange. I am used to our other novels that have clear archetypes and thinking that is present in many literature works. Murakami seems to almost be combating these archetypes. He has Kumiko as the main bread winner whereas the husband, Toru is acting as a traditional housewife (at least in the western sense of the word). He doesn't immediately view the phone sex lady as a harlot, but rather, like you mentioned, is merely upset she is interrupting his marriage and routine. She is almost like an unsuccessful seductress. Finally, like you mentioned, May is convincing Toru to participate in activities he wouldn't do otherwise such as the breaking in and smoking. I could see her as a new breed of seductress almost. Not in a sexual way, but more as temptation for the new and exciting or different.
I agree that even by the end of the novel, it's still a little hard to place Kumiko into one of the classic literary tropes for women. On the one hand, it's easy to paint her in the "temptress" light, with her abandonment of Toru, her affair (discovered to be numerous affairs) it can be possible to paint this picture. However, she is still someone that needs saving from Noboru, as is Toru's mission for much of the novel, potentially fitting the trope of innocence. I thought it was an interesting change of pace that in the end, Kumiko decided that she had to be the one to pull the plug on Noburu Wataya. Toru's quest throughout the novel sees him attempting to save Kumiko, and doing whatever he can to free her from Norboru's hold on her. Although she does give Toru the baseball bat that allows him to attack Noboru in Room 208, and we learn in her emails that she has been waiting and hoping that Toru would be able to help free her. In this way, she is neither exclusively a "damsel in distress" nor an independent warrior seeking to save herself. May Kasahara, too, is an unusual character to place in the literary stereotypes for women. It seems at first as though she could be the seductress, though for a long time she never overtly tries to do so, until she is drawn to Toru's mark. This she and Kumiko and all the other female clients of Toru share; he has some quality to help them remedy their brokenness that they are drawn to. In this way Murkami's female characters are a little hard to pin down at times.
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