A Research Paper on Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
A Research Paper on Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami was a Japanese writer born in Kyoto. He met his wife, Yoko, at university and they operated a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. After he realized that he could write novels, and his first one Norwegian Wood (1987) made him a national celebrity, he continued his writing career.
The Novel and Its Intricacies
A novel written by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, this was originally written in Japanese – Sekai no owari to hado-boirudo wandarando and was translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum. It was a story which presents two different worlds, The Hard-boiled Wonderland – or the cyber-punk, Science fiction part and The End of the World which is the virtual fantasy-like surreal part (Murakami, 1985). The story is an interesting narrative of two parallel worlds, where the character narrating in the world of science fiction is a robot named Calcutec. Calcutec is a human data processor and encryption system which has been trained to process encryption keys using the subconscious level of the mind. In the story, the calcutecs are made to work for the government to fight against the semiotecs or the criminals who work for the Factory. The System works to protect the data which the semiotecs want to steal. With the limited time Calcutec has working for a scientist, he had to accomplish his tasks before he gets to be absorbed into the world of the subconscious.
The other story shows a different world which was situated in an isolated town that is protected by a perfect and impenetrable wall. This time the narrator is working on his acceptance into the town and was cut-off from his shadow which was sent to the Shadow Grounds to die through the winter. It is a requirement for the town members not to have their shadows and it follows that they are not supposed to have minds too. The work of the narrator in the story is a Dream reader. But it is the opposite, he is expected to remove traces of mind from the town and his daily routine includes going to the library and learning to read dreams from skulls.
What connects the two stories is the narrator himself. In the End of the World, he was the person existing within the subconscious world of Calcutec. Together the two stories explore the worlds of consciousness, the subconscious and unconscious and self-identity.
The identity of a person or his ability to think is not just shaped by the conscious stream of mind, the subconscious also gives life to what the mind is not capable of expressing within the streamline of consciousness.
The plot of the stories were narrated form two different perspectives, the first narrator in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” was delivered by an android who is an alcoholic and has anti-social behavior. Being infallible in their works, the calcutecs worked for the System in encrypting data but there was also the disgraced faction of the calcutecs who chose to work for the wrong side and were regarded as criminals – the semiotecs. Made from the same material and for the same purpose the two are interrelated just like the two faces of a quarter, where each side is manipulated for specific purposes. While calcutecs are designed to protect the semiotecs meant to steal.
The plot thickens when Calcutec received an assignment form a scientist who is exploring the theory of sound removal. Hiding in a sewer on the underground of Tokyo Tower, the sewer presents a doomsday concept of Tokyo. While on his task for the scientist, Calcutec realized that he only has a limited time, a day and a half to be exact until his consciousness fades away. It will happen instantly according to the scientist but having acknowledged that this day is bound to happen soon, Calcutec feels like it will be like eternity.
On the other side of the world, the narrator just came into Town which they call End of the World. Described as an eerie town surrounded by thick walls and nothing pass through them it was more likely that when someone enters, there is no way to escape from it. The narrator is courageous, strong and adventurous compared to the character of Calcutec. All residents of the town are not allowed to keep their shadows; all shadows are cast into the Shadow grounds according to the rules of the town. A town member who has just disengaged from his shadows will be given a new job, and the narrator got the job as a Dream reader. As a Dream reader he is tasked to take away the consciousness among people. As the two stories progressed readers will soon realize that the world represented by the town in the second story is the world pictured within the subconscious of Calcutec (Mallari, 2018).
The characters in the stories were not given specific names but are rather identified based on their jobs. The world in the End of the World has some similarities to the Utopian/dystopian concept of a city that was also presented in other literary works like Lowry’s “The Giver”. The End of the World is the world which has been translated into a bigger, reality version that came out from the subconscious of Calcutec.
The two stories may create confusion to the reader at the beginning, first because the first story unfolds in the odd numbered chapters while the second on the even numbered ones. This division on the book itself represents how the thoughts had been switching over from the past, as the narrator recalls what happened to him and the present on the second story which shows how he is living at present.
The anti-social behavior of Calcutec, his damaged and roguish character is a depiction of the characteristics of Murakami himself. It was like putting himself also in the character of the android. The Dream reader on the other story is more alike to a hero who is naiver, adventurous and generous. He was stuck in a place where he is also moving towards losing his mind. This proves then that even if Calcutec acts like a typical robot there is a part of him that could be taken as a hero while the Dream reader no matter how positive he had been acting in End of the World he was a product of an uninspiring character. And like most of his stories Murakami left the questions unresolved in the end. The reader is left wondering after reading his book (Holub-Moorman, 2012).
This story is about the thoughts, feelings of the human mind. It shows that there are kept in the subconscious which are sometimes translated into an imaginary world. As Calcutec realized that he is about to lose his consciousness in a few more hours, he had imagined already in his subconscious what would possibly happen to him after he lost his consciousness. That was how Dream reader came to life in the other world. But the connection between them remains, as the Dream reader went to do his tasks of taking the consciousness of the people in town, he is also working on a way to get back his shadows and escape the town. While he was working on reading dreams using unicorn skulls, he was also finding a way out.
The connection between the two narrators was also shown on how what they are supposed to do for their jobs. Calcutec read encrypted data, while Dream reader read through dreams using skulls. Both are confronting the challenge of keeping their consciousness, Calcutec for the remaining day and a half and for Dream reader in retrieving back his shadows. The thick wall surrounding the town may be compared to the walls that separate the conscious from the subconscious level of the mind. Everything that is kept on the subconscious are always difficult to express and are often revealed through the imagery or imagination. It was because of this struggle that Calcutec had conceptualized the End of the World town in his mind.
The name itself implies the end of life for Calcutec, it seemed that when he loses his consciousness, he will be trapped for eternity in a place like the town. The shadow which will be cast on the Shadow Grounds and will remove the consciousness from the person is the same apprehension Calcutec feels as the day dooms on him that he will be losing his consciousness.
The setting of Hard-Boiled Wonderland which a futuristic perspective of Tokyo, it shows the vision of a future designed by technology where androids are employed for purposes for doing the tasks the government needs, even to the extent of fighting criminals. Being mechanical as they are and infallible in their work on encrypting data it was still shown here that androids or robots are not safe at all and may still be corrupted to do evil things. The work of Calcutec in the past also transcended in his assigned job in the future, working for the town to read the dreams of people.
Reading dreams is the same as decoding encrypted data, both are complex tasks which requires expertise and precision. One cannot just interpret dreams nor produce results from data out of assumptions. Calcutec even explained his tasks using the left and right side of his brain. Which means in performing his job he is utilizing the maximum power of his brain, it was also the same for the Dream reader, he also needs his consciousness to get his job done?
Is Death the Same as Losing One's Consciousness?
“Open your eyes train your ears, use your head. If a mind you have, then use it while you can.” This shows how Calcutec would like to remember himself, how he was able to use his mind while he is still conscious. He did not realize this however until he was told how time he has left before he loses it. He had never put any thought about losing his consciousness as he went about his work of encrypting data and protecting the system. It was only when he came to work for the scientist when he came to this truth. The sewer where the scientist works is like the premonition to what his world would be when he gets to that point of losing his consciousness.
“You got to know your limits. Once is enough, but you got to learn. A little caution never hurt anyone. A good woodsman has only one scar on him. No more, no less.” When he found out that he was about to lose his consciousness and when he was told that it will not come gradually, Calcutec learned that he is not indispensable. Yes, the character of this android in the story may not be exactly human but he was endowed by Murakami with human characteristics, with limitations. Regardless of how useful he had been in doing his work for the System, for the government there will still come a time when he must retire and stop working.
“Genius or fool, you don't live in the world alone. You can hide underground, or you can build a wall around yourself, but somebody's going to come along and screw up the works.” The System created the Calcutecs for the purpose of encrypting data and protecting the System. But though they were created for the same purpose there were still among them who turned away and chose to work for the criminal, stealing the data. It is reflective of the nature of man, who was created by God to be naturally good but as he makes his own choices and takes his own path in the world he goes astray and do some evil.
“Everything, everything seemed once-upon-a-time.” The story of the Hard-Boiled Wonderland is a recollection of the past from the perspective of Calcutec. He had been reminiscing how he had been functioning in society and did well on his job. He may have some anti-social behavior as he refuses to conform to society’s demands, but he acknowledges it that he has to exist with other androids. The way the story is told like Calcutec is reminiscing his past life; he had been seeing things, his life then from his memory. It was what was left of him to do while helping the scientist and waiting for the day that he will lose his consciousness.
“I wasn't particularly afraid of death itself. As Shakespeare said, die this year and you don't have to die the next.” Losing consciousness, separation from one’s shadow, the shadows being condemned to vanish in the Shadow Grounds, all are depictions of death in the two stories. Losing someone’s consciousness is not just about forgetting, it is not just about fainting and coming back again. As the scientist has put it in perspective for Calcutec, it will come in an instant, and Calcutec also thought of it as eternity. When people die, there is no point of returning back to life. Dying was presented in The End of the World as the separation of the body from the spirit, where the physical form of the person is left to vanish buried under the ground, while the spirit wanders in community with other spirits.
“Huge organizations and me don't get along. They're too inflexible, waste too much time, and have too many stupid people.” This is an understatement for the demonstration of anti-social behavior of Calcutec. He had not been fond of getting socially along with others that is why in Hard-Boiled Wonderland he was not able to foster a good relationship with the daughter of the scientist. Unlike in the End of the World, as the Dream reader goes about reading skulls and people’s dreams, he was not afraid to show fondness for the librarian and he shows it by going to the library every day.
The sewer where the scientist work, is the same place depicted as the library in the other story. Calcutec had to go every day to the sewer to help the scientist, the same way the he goes every day to the library while doing his dream reading job.
“Once again, life had a lesson to teach me: It takes years to build up, it takes moments to destroy.” People take time to collect memories, to remember the things they do. It takes both sides of the brain to function to process things and comprehend ideas, but as the scientist say losing the consciousness come in an instant and there is nothing left when it leaves the mind. Nothing will be remembered, everything will be forgotten, and this very thought have triggered the subconscious of Calcutec to project a world where he will exist again after he loses his consciousness.
“What was lost was lost. There was no retrieving it, however you schemed, no returning to how things were, no going back.” This is depicted in the End of the World when shadows are casts to the Shadows Ground and are left to vanish in the winter. Winter is a symbol of death in the story and vanishing of the shadows meant there is no way of getting back the consciousness of a person. Dream reader initially planned to escape the town together with his shadow while he was not yet trapped in the town for long, but in the end, he decided to stay and let his shadow alone escape. What leaves as a question to the reader then after is what happens to the shadow of the Dream reader if he stayed in the town? Was it a sign that when the shadow escaped from the Shadow Ground Calcutec came back to the reality of the society he had just been recalling before as part of his memory?
“The best musicians transpose consciousness into sound; painters do the same for color and shape.” So, it was for androids like Calcutec to build up his memory form the data encryption he had been interpreting. The last of the memory that he will have in mind will be the theory of removing sound which he was doing for the scientist. The theory of removing sound is also a symbolical thing in the first story. Removing of the sounds is comparable to removing the essence of something, what is music if there is no sound, so what is man without his consciousness.
“How can the mind be so imperfect?" she says with a smile. A truth in showing the limitations of the mind. In the present scenario, the mind can do a lot of things, of explaining and comprehending. It can store memories as much as it can hold. It helps in the communication between people. But it also has its limitations, there will come a point that ends everything, and the mind has to rest, and rest means total rest, without having to work again.
I look at my hands. Bathed in the moonlight, they seem like statues, proportioned to no purpose. The moonlight is a sign or a representation of what Calcutec will look like in the other world. As it was said the End of the World, the shadow is separated from the Dream reader, the things he saw which seemed like without any form at all is himself being separated from his physical body. Existing now as a spirit he does not need his hands to do his job, it was only his mind that he needs to read people’s dreams and facilitate the separation of consciousness form another people’s mind too.
"It may well be imperfect," I say, "but it leaves traces. And we can follow those traces, like footsteps in the snow." "To oneself," I answer. "That's where the mind is. Without the mind, nothing leads anywhere." Calcutec/Dream reader affirms that without the spirit, the body is nothing. The consciousness is what provides meaning and purpose for the body. The memories kept in the mind either form its consciousness or subconscious level also defines the work of the mind and these are the imprints that will give a person the idea of how he had lived his life before.
Hard-boiled, wonderland, end of the world, all of these are also depictions of Murakami’s versions of the world Alice saw in the story Alice in Wonderland. The large quantity of eggs found by Alice, may be the large amount of memories kept in the conscious level of the mind, and what the person fears or imagines to have and be are kept in the subconscious level and at times are projected into something that may seem very realistic.
There are no rabbit holes to fall to Calcutec but he has the town in the End of the World which trapped him in. Surrounded by the thick walls which are impenetrable there seems to be no way for him to go and no other choice but to stay and accept the job he was given – that of being a dream reader. Surely, he will find that there are things he is yearning for which he was not able to achieve while in the Hard-boiled Wonderland, but he was able to them all in the End of the World.
The novel is a creative way of showing life and life after death. It was about all the fears one may have when faced with the limited time of existence.
Holub-Moorman, Will. (2012). "Reading Redux: Scrambling to Know a Hard-Boiled End." The Crimson. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2012/11/6/hard-boiled-end/
Mallari, Kelly. (2018). "Study.com." n.d. Study.com. <https://www.study.com/hard-boiled-wonderland-and-the-end-of-the-world-summary-&-analysis>.
Murakami, Haruki. (1985). Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World. Japan: Kodansha Shinchosha, Print.
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