A Critical Analysis of Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake: Landscape with Flatiron
The short story “Landscape with Flatiron” is a descriptive narrative of three characters. Junko is a high school dropout who ran away from home and got employed as a cashier in a trade store. She has a boyfriend, Keinsuke and an elderly man friend Miyake, who finds delight in making bonfires at the seashore. In fact, the story is based on recounts on their earlier life. This analysis examines the stressful and traumatic conditions the two main characters in this short story go through. However, while Junko’s response mechanisms of trauma revolve around her incapacity to control the stimulation, arousal, and distractibility, Miyake, on the other hand, responds to trauma through the assumption of accountability and responsibility for the situation through numbing and avoidance.
The Kobe earth tremor that occurred in 1995, which is publicly referred to as the Great Hanshin earth tremor, caused a wide range of damage to the property in Kobe and its dwellers. Important to note is that large numbers of people’s lives were lost and property destroyed. In fact, Kobe is core to the creation of the fiscal wealth of Japan. Therefore, the effects of the catastrophe had adverse impacts on a national level. Indeed, the huge numbers of individuals that lost their lives alone were enough to have a detrimental impact to the dwellers of Japan. In the story “Landscape with Flatiron,” Haruki Murakami explores the social implications of the 1995 earthquake. Therefore, the analysis will provide a persuasive discussion demonstrating that Both Miyake and Junko exhibit symptoms of depression that are revealed by their persistent incursions of memories from their past traumatic occurrences and experiences, such as those caused by the recent earth tremor.
In the story, Murakami uses various symbolic representations, for instance, the story begins when the three characters share their experiences during a bonfire. At first, the fire almost fails to start, but with patience and a little more effort by Miyake, it slowly begins to burn and turns into a full bonfire where they all enjoy the warmth. Indeed, this is symbolic of the Japanese people’s passion and, more so, the characters’ for life. Despite having gone through various traumatic experiences in their earlier life, they still had the will and passion for surviving. However, many times, the two main characters, Miyake and Junko, are preoccupied with the notion of death. In this case, the author used allegorical descriptive to showcase the suicidal thoughts of individuals with depression. Indeed, the author used the events after the Kobe earth tremor to create a strong effect in the minds of the intended reader; the public of Japan.
Junko and Miyake contemplate their preoccupations with death, an implication of individuals with depression. Various studies have shown that when an individual is in the state of depression, his or her will to live becomes weak daily, making death paradoxically seen as the only practical way to run away from the pains and sufferings of the present life. Van der Kolk and McFarlane (488) indicate that depression stimulated by traumatic experiences in life has the aptitude to change the normal psychological, social, and biological functionalities of individuals. In fact, the outcome of depression might be severe to the extent that the memory of a single traumatic experience defects all other experiences, which is a fact that causes a depressed person to lack the appreciation of the ongoing experiences. Moreover, the remembrance and the individual reconstruction of the stressful event and occurrence can compete with the previous traumatic event concerning the harmful impact. In most cases, the flashback of the traumatic event that usually confirms a belief that a person has tried to evade and avoid is not accepted and integrated into a past personal experience.
Therefore, Miyake’s case is a superb illustration of this traumatic concept. Not only does he refuse to relate to his past experiences and events, but also he does not even want to talk about it to his newly found friends. After all, this shows that the passage of time does not have an impact on the proximity and vicinity of the traumatic experience of people who are depressed as well as those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders. Just as Junko and Miyake, the depressed individuals fail to integrate the stressful and traumatic experiences and events in their lives, and thus are viewed as an occurrence that exists outside the person. Van der Kolk and McFarlane assert that there are six critical concerns that influence how individuals who are suffering from depression process data. As such, they include recurrent intrusions to the stressful events, neurotic re-exposure to events that remind the individual of the trauma, avoiding things and events that arouse the traumatic experience, incapability to modulate arousal, and lack of receptiveness as well as issues with distractibility and attention. All these factors are evident in the behaviors of Junko and Miyake, which forms the basis of the idea that they suffer from depression. Important to note is that each character responds differently to their traumatic life experiences.
On the one hand, Miyake’s responsive mechanism for his state of depression revolves around avoidance and assuming responsibility, as earlier indicated. As a matter of fact, everyone in the area can see that he is from Kobe due to his strong accent. However, upon being asked whether he had a relative from the area that had been hit by the earthquake a month before the time the action narrated, his response is that he had not had ties with Kobe for several years. However, Keisuke continued to press the question enquiring whether he had watched the news recently when he demanded the change of the subject to something new. In fact, Miyake goes ahead to introduce something new, notably by drinking whiskey to prevaricate the traumatic discussion. Consequently, talking about Kobe would have caused Miyake to recall the traumatic and depressive events and occurrences that had taken place in the past. Therefore, he applies the avoidance tactic to avoid the topic. Indeed, his refusal to discuss and recognize anything from his past and his sudden introduction of whiskey every time an individual raises questions about his past indicates his projected avoidance aimed at blocking the emotions that would evoke memories of his experiences. In fact, any slight stimulation could provoke supplementary detachment. In addition, he takes the responsibility of the traumatic situation and event. For instance, he rebukes himself for not having used his brains. Although readers do not get the actual reason or the traumatic event controlling his current life, he perhaps takes responsibility for the distressing moments through admonishing himself.
On the other hand, Junko is shown to manifest her trauma not only in her incapacity to restrain arousal, but also in her distractibility. Her mind takes her back to when she was a young girl, and she remembers the fatherly love that surrounded her until she reached the adolescent stage, and her father started looking at her weirdly. As time passed by, the father hardly talked to her, and her grades at school deteriorated. Indeed, the school and her father were the key factors that caused her current situation. Under those premises, she lacked concentration at school and could not perform a duty to an end without being distracted, a situation that led to her low grades. Henceforth, she could not bear it more and sought to run away from home. According to Van der Kolk and McFarlane (496), the inability to concentrate and the distractions are attributable to Junko’s failure to decipher alerts and messages in the central nervous system. As such, she reacted to her external environment with either inhibited or exaggerated behaviors or both. Indeed, her inability to express and articulate her feeling when she stood before the bonfire at the seashore could demonstrate her inability to express her feelings before Miyake, despite the fact that her Alexithymia condition does not display inhibited or exaggerated conducts and behaviors.
It is worth noting that the manifestations of obsessive re-exposure to the traumatic conditions and the recurrent intrusion of memory into their mind were common to both Miyake and Junko. In fact, this experience can be defined to as somatosensory impressions, for instance, the nightmares and the flashbacks they experienced in their lives (Kapfhammer, 238). For Miyake, he has a recurring dream whereby some hands he believes to be of dead people drags him into a refrigerator, and when he tries to scream, no one can hear his voice. Instead of suffocating and dying at once, some air finds its way in, making him take longer to die. Apparently, it is a dream he says he has had for so long, and every night, it is as scary as the first time. In fact, this dream has been there for so long that he cannot even remember when it started. Therefore, it qualifies to be an intrusion, which can be used to explain the feeling of intense emotion of fear and panic every time he gets the dream. On the other hand, Junko experiences the feeling of distress of attending school.
Adding to the persistence of traumatic experiences’ memory, both Junko and Miyake have found ways in which they re-expose themselves to their distinct traumatic experiences. For instance, Junko relationship with Keisuke has an element that threatens to jeopardize their correlation that, depicts the ugly streak of jealousness from Keisuke. Indeed, this takes her back to the primary source of her trauma, when her dad refused to communicate with her upon reaching puberty. Similarly, Miyake re-victimizes himself during his deterministic chat of presentiments. Similar to the way Jack London thought he would die through drowning and ended up dying soaked up with alcohol, Miyake’s reasons that his death in the refrigerator could mean that he will die of something totally different, which could be uglier and intense. He also recognizes that the dream, just as that of Jack, symbolizes or reflects his will to die. Hence, the individual destructiveness symbolizes a hallmark of obsessive re-exposure to the primary traumatic experience that readers fail to discover in the story. In fact, this narrative is likely to be more metaphoric, an idea supported by Miyake’s utterance that he can only make portraits of things that stand for something else.
It is imperative to note that the narrative was established soon after an earth tremor had hit Kobe. Therefore, it implied that most people did not have hope for the future and lived a day at a time. For instance, Keisuke felt that what he needed to care about was here and now, making him feel that even the bonfire would last forever. He even asserted that no one knew when the world would end. Therefore, no one should be thinking about the future. During the time the narrative was written, most people in Japan had lost hope. As such, individuals wondered whether their lives would ever return to normal and live how they had lived before the earthquake hit their land. Murakami narrative on the “Landscape with Flatiron” expressed the manner in which the people of Kobe and the entire nation felt when they thought that their city would not be rebuilt. In essence, the helpless situation of people living in this area is shown through Miyake and Junko’s final decision to die together.
As evident from the above analysis, the stressful, traumatic conditions that the two main characters in this short story had gone through before and after the quake unveils how their experiences had affected their lives. Both Miyake and Junko have various symptoms of depression that are revealed by their persistent incursions of memories from their past traumatic occurrences and experiences, such as those caused by the recent earth tremor. Therefore, through the use of the Kobe quake as a catalyst, Haruki Murakami has depicted the suicidal attitudes that are common among the Japanese people, and the fact that suicides are habitually made public in this nation makes the issue more relevant.
Kapfhammer, Hans-Peter. “Somatic Symptoms in Depression.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8.2 (2006): 227-239.
Murakami, Haruki. After the Quake. Trans. Jay Rubin. New York: Vintage Books, 2002. Print.
Van der Kolk, Bessel A., and Alexander McFarlane. “The Black Hole of Trauma.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. 487-499. Print.