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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World

I started reading Haruki Murakami’s 40-chapter, 400-page novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World (henceforth ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland,’) as a random pick of the author’s work to discern, as I did with Kafka on the Shore, key elements of authorial craft. My reading began the night I came home from Roger Waters’s concert “Us and Them” in which he performed classic songs from the 70s British psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd’s album ‘The Wall’. In the song, the wall ‘spoke’ of the human condition viz-a-viz totalitarianism, much as the Great Wall of China spoke of the “us and them” of human beings and how to differentiate between the civilized the ‘barbarians’. Walls also respond to intense human emotions.

Haruki Murakami

        The Wailing Wall of Jerusalem perhaps responds to those who confessed their life’s shortcomings a ritual of repentance. The Berlin wall was “torn down” because it could no longer speak for the ideological quarrels that separate the ideas of economic-philosophers Frederick von Hayek and John Maynard Keynes, the ideologues of the free enterprise and command economies in the history and story of “commanding heights” (or base and superstructure) of societies, as the Russian revolutionist Vladimir Lenin wrote about in a famous essay concerning the highest stage of capitalism.

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        The Wall. The perfect wall. Indestructible. One that speaks and haunts the human spirit. Then there is the shadow. Inseparable from the source. Strip the self from the shadow and life becomes absurd. Illogical, paving way for the crafting of fantasy and stories of world-building. Herein lies Murakami’s use of inanimate objects, of how materials become spirited and animated, to characterize the anatomy and biology of power. For him, inanimate objects are life forces, as such as neural technology has life – a key feature of the philology of cybernetics, a science derived from the Latin “kybernets” loosely meaning “the force in living things,” which also includes computer viruses and complex systems running the missiles of Pentagon. In speaking of this perspective of life, I recall the song by the British rock group The Police, “Spirits in the Material World.”

        The “animism of cybernetic-materialism” as I will call it in this brief essay concerning the way structures and architectural spaces of knowledge and power are given the voice to define what a human being’s life should look like. By animism, anthropologically, I mean by the belief that there is life in non-human and inanimate objects. In Hard-Boiled Wonderland, a novel graced with sub-themes of Cybernetic and Chaos Theory, of complex systems and consciousness, of reading dreams and manipulating shadows, of the post-informational-post-Japanese Apocalyptic Age turf and gang war between the “Calcutecs and the Semiotecs,  and the INKlings’, of talks of cryonics and animated suspension, postmodern techniques of mummification, and most importantly, in the tradition of the movie The Matrix, and Orwellian-world-inspired novels such as I984. and in the Pink Floyd-genre of conceptual work on totalitarianism and cybernetic-cartel on the control over human destiny — in all these — Murakami crafted inanimate objects – specifically the walls and shadows – as animaes that have, respectively, God-like and human features. Below I discuss the writer’s craft in animae-ing the wall and the shadow.         

Personifying the Wall

        In the story, buildings have feelings. The Wall is speaking to Murakami’s nameless character (“goes simply by “Dreamcatcher”) or the “chosen one” amongst the geeks groomed by a professor of advanced cybernetics (named “Professor”) caught in a war between two warring factions out to control human consciousness and enslave them in a world that seemed to feel like paradise in which emotions are stripped off, yet happiness is the order of the day. The protagonist’s mind was manipulated via a complex circulatory anomaly to enable the professor to orchestrate the battle and ultimately to save the “Town” and the “Woods” as two worlds in one. He used the protagonist both as his guinea pig and his soldier of fortune.

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        In Hard-Boiled Wonderland, Murakami turned the wall into an all-encompassing all-seeing, and all-controlling force of human existence for the inhabitants of the “Town” that strips memories, emotions, and separates the self from the shadow. It is a personification of animism of materialism, as I stated earlier. Murakami uses the object called the “wall” as an organic concept of control of the otherwise randomness of behavior and the elimination of suffering.  He gave life to an object.

        As exemplified by the hero’s first encounter with it.

(The Gatekeeper said): “The Wall has no mortar … There is no need. The bricks fit perfect; not a hair-space between them. Nobody can put a dent in the Wall. And nobody can climb it. Because this Wall is perfect. So, forget any ideas you have. Nobody leaves here.”  (pg. 109)

(The Gatekeeper continued): “If you endure, everything will be fine. No worry, no suffering. It all disappears. This is the End of the World. This is where the world ends. Nowhere further to go.”  (pg. 109)

        Further in the story, Murakami gave the inanimate object/material a fuller sense of alive-ness. The Wall is presented as if it has eyes and in all its perfectness became an All-Seeing, All-Knowing, and All-Controlling structure that defines the ideological nature of the “Town”. Murakami wrote about the Dreamcatcher’s experience as the latter leaves the imposing structure:

Before I begin my way back, I steal one more glance at the Wall, Beneath the snow swept heavens, it rears up more stately, more perfect than ever. As I gaze up at it, I feel them peering at me.  What are you doing here? They seem to say. What are you looking for? (pg.150)

Even an important inhabitant of the “Town”, the “Colonel”, a retired army official and a man who loves to play chess, the game for strategists, spoke of the “Wall” as if it has a life, as if it is an animae, and a feature of what I called “animism-cybernetic-materialism”:

        (The Colonel said) ‘The Wall leaves nothing to chance. The Wall has  its way with all who possess mind absorbing them or driving them out.” (pg. 170)

And lastly, another of Murakami’s illustration of the life-force in the cybernetic-materialism of the “Wall” can be discerned from the protagonist’s experience in the woods:

         The farther I venture from the Wall and proceed into the forest interior, the stronger these impressions (of tranquility of the Woods) become. All these shades of misfortunes soon dissipate while the very shape of the trees and color of the foliage grow somehow more restive, the bird song longer and more leisurely. (pg. 142)

Shadows as animae

        More than the function of the Wall as the author’s use as a technique of personifying a power outside the self, impersonal, and psychologically and ideologically imposing, Murakami uses the “shadow” as a fully-developed “animae-ed” character to affect a series of deeply philosophical and intense dialogue of what it means to be fully human. In fact, the thrust of the story is the hero’s quest to rescue his shadow and to reunite with all the elements of selfhood the shadow can offer. Murakami, as in his creation of personification of the wall, presented the shadow as “organic” being, in the tradition of the cultural philosophy of animism which recognizes the existence of spirits residing in these non-human things. With the wall and the shadow as characters, Murakami went a step further in this tale of magical realism: inanimate objects have spirits.

While rescuing his shadow from the Gatehouse, the protagonist narrated:

“I hoist my shadow onto my back. Although he has lost most of his weight, his burden will not be light. It is a long way to the Western and Southern Hills. I have grown used to living free of a shadow.” (pg. 384)

My shadow looks up then closes his eyes to receive a blessing of snowflakes. And as if heavy shackles have lifted away, I see my shadow regain strength. He walks toward me, however feebly on his won.” (pg. 398)

Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist refused to be united with the shadow so that he could live in the “Town” with all the imperfections of being human and being able to gradually regain the ability to recall the past and conjure memories. He was also, by then, falling in love. His love for the “Librarian,” a girl he helped regained the mind through an intense session of “dream-catching” made him change his mind about leaving the woods”. (pg.400)

In the final conversation, in the last two paragraphs of the 400-page story of psycho-philosophical-cybernetic delightful magical fantasy-love story, Murakami ended the dialogue between the self and the shadow as such:

A little by little I will recall things. People and places from our former world, different qualities of light, different songs. And as I remember, I may find the key to my own creation, and to its undoing.

No, I doubt it. Not as long as you are sealed inside yourself. Search as you might, you will never know the clarity of distance without me. Still, you can’t say I didn’t try.” My shadow says, then pauses. “I loved you.”

“I will not forget you.” I reply. (pg. 399)

        In the above reading of Murakami’s authorial craft, a valuable lesson on technique I learned is that in order to expand the realm of the reader’s experience with the text, other-than-humans-other than animals can also be made to talk, at times with powerful effect such as the ones Murakami did with the wall and the shadow. In fact, in a story in which a protagonist is an anti-hero of bohemianic and even narcissistic proportion, and one who constantly engages in self-talk, and one in which inner dialogue primarily governs the story, such a device can be effective. Rather than have the character talk to and with an imaginary friend, talking to one’s shadow can yield philosophical insights as profound as having arguments with demons and devils and diabolical forces within. Having a wall talk to oneself too can be a revealing experience when it comes to telling a story about alienation, automaton-ization, atomization, and authoritarianism. I think this technique of personifying materials and making them part of the discursive-cultural-world of the story is a clever strategy as well as a crafty and artsy approach to characterization.


        Walls and shadows that speak to the Dreamcatcher, the protagonist in Haruki Murakami’s psycho-cybernetic novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World is a feature of the author’s use of objects or materials, or inanimate objects, as characters. I call these elements “animism-cybernetic-materialism” to explain how Murakami “animaes” objects and give them important voices signifying hidden forces shaping the story. While perhaps this technique has been used from as early as “stones could talk” as in the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber, or as recent as the characters in the movie Toy Story, the idea in Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland is, especially in the case of the shadow, to no only give depth but to become a voice of the alter-ego and the other half of the self that was detached from the existence of the protagonist. The central theme was to capture the shadow and to give a meaning to life, again. Murakami’s technique, I believe is not only useful to any author writing in the genre of magical realism, but to preach the idea that the world of the animate and the inanimate is one, because Nature too involves both the naturalness of Nature, and the Un-Naturalness of the Artifacts Man creates. And hence, the use of the shadow and the wall that speaks truth to power. The truth of human existence.


Murakami, Haruki (1991). Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World. (New York: Vintage)

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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