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Women Through Word: The short stories of Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author who created a large collection of short stories that explores the harsh experiences women experience in society. Women present in these short stories are often sexualised and looked down upon by their male counterparts. Such conditions cause audiences to also draw that normal day-to-day life is experienced in a similar way to the way it is being portrayed in the stories.

These texts include ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’ and ‘Samsa in Love’, which have very different plots. ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’ follows the narrator fawning over a girl that he had instantly recognised as his perfect match. The story touches on concepts linked to ‘meant to be’ romances like fate and destiny, where both parties feel a strong mutual connection despite their first meeting, however there is a lack of the female’s perspective.

Though female characters are given a voice in ‘Samsa in Love’, such voices are often met with stereotypically patronising tones by the men in the story. ‘Samsa in Love' is a ‘love’ story where Samsa becomes sexually attracted to the hunchback locksmith who teaches him about the world around him. Murakami offers different depictions of female characters in the stories to help portray a linked message, highlighting the unchanging experiences of females in the society they live in, despite the passing of time. Despite the different perspectives, both stories are still narrated by a male character.

More evident in ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’, the depicted ‘love at first sight’ is deemed as unrealistic when under a feminist reading lens. The male narrator had confidently stated that the girl he had passed was “the 100% perfect girl”, yet he could not “‘remember anything about her – the shape of her eyes or the size of her breasts.’” This statement helps show how women are viewed by men in society. Given that he just mentioned that she was the perfect girl, it is hard to believe that he is unable to recall details about his ideal girl. Proving how little thought males in society put towards women in general. “She is the 100% perfect girl for [him].”, reveals the possessiveness present in his thoughts, claiming that they are destined to be together yet makes little effort to remember traits of hers, suggesting that although claiming to be in love, the feeling is surface leveled, and is looking for satisfaction rather than physical and emotional connection.

The lack of attention to detail towards things that they claim to love draws the audience’s attention. The story is written from a first-person point of view, allowing readers to understand one’s thoughts and feelings. Though proven be an unreliable narrator, evident in the biased sharing of information where only his perspective on the possible budding of romance, the readers are brought along on the rollercoaster of emotions, following his fantasy of the possible relationship he could’ve been having with the girl he had met, better understanding his perspectives on the situation.

The story begins with “Once upon a time”, a classic fairytale beginning usually accompanied by a happy ending, highlighting his idealistic perception of the future with someone he barely knows and remembers. The readers are able to experience a sense of the longing the narrator has to be with this girl. “The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in the chest.” is a tactile imagery that both parties were affected and shaken to their core. However, the reminder that the story does it actually include any hints or signs in which the female character feels the same also pushes the irony in the story.

The presence of a narrative gap due to the lack of a female perspective hinders the narration as there is an undependable portrayal of the events that happened. Only the narrator’s views and thoughts are brought upon the readers, while the female’s perspective is completely dismissed. Not only that, the story also shows the women’s lack of voice and opinion in society, highlighting that the males of the society are usually the ones in control. Both stories play up the culture of women being sexualised, an important factor in the development of the plots. The longing for desire and lust is highlighted through the sexualisation and objectification of women which has detrimental side effects such as body shame and appearance anxiety and may cause long-term psychological harm diminishing women’s self-confidence.

In ‘Samsa in Love’, the sexual tension between the two characters is extremely strong when the two were talking about the physical sexual indicators shown by Samsa. The short sentences used, “‘Yes. I want to see you one more time.’/‘With your thing sticking out like that?’” proves the inability to recognise that he is sexualising the female he is with. Although it may not have been his intention, it helps highlight the ignorance present in males in society regarding their behaviours towards women, showing how men act around women, portraying the problem possibly through a more exaggerated condition.

Similarly, ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’ reveals at the end that he shallowly hopes that “with any kind of luck, [they] might end up in bed” showing his true intentions and sexual fantasies without any mention of consent or psychological connections. The seemingly uncontrollable lust and desire for sexual interactions emphasises on the male gaze present in society and how women are sexualised and objectified in real-life context, powerless to stop such things from happening. The silencing of female characters in both stories portrays males as self-centered and self-absorbed, only taking their needs, lust and desires into consideration.

In ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’, the use of surrealism where Murakami blends the norms with unreal qualities, hence making such events seem quite likely to happen in the real world, the seemingly innocent thought the narrator hoped to share as “they sat on a park bench, held hands, and told each other their stories hour after hour.”, brings forth the lack of female characters' voices, as the readers are aware that all this is a fantasy where two strangers connect spiritually and physically with each other in a mere matter of minutes. The narrator does not take into account the feelings and views of the female he is interested in.

Without taking into consideration how the opposing party may feel or react, by wanting to tell “the simple truth... ‘Good morning. You are the 100% perfect girl for me” the narrator can be perceived as creepy, frightening and alarming especially by the female interest of the narrator. Women in the stories are often looked down upon and treated as the more submissive person in the relationship, usually displayed as “trophies” and objectified. Playing into the stereotypical perspective of the patriarchal society, ‘On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful Morning’, the male narrator had said that “all [he could] remember for sure [was] that she was no great beauty”, expresses to the readers that look and beauty are usually the first thing that a male notices about women and is considered to be their character-defining features.

Though subjective, we can see that the narrator had defined her based on her looks. It was then followed by a short sentence “It’s weird”, emphasises the importance of women’s beauty in society, where the lack thereof may cause unnecessary suspicions of putting a reputation. Likewise, in ‘Samsa in Love’, Samsa tried to cover up his sexual desires with excuses. Samsa’s supposed female hunchback lover, quickly called out to Samsa asking whether “[the bulge] has [anything] to do with fucking.” This connotes the amount of unwanted sexual attention women in society goes through, and feeling the need to ask and clarify whether such sexual attention is hinting any form of further actions.

The crude and derogatory nature of the language used also suggest how lowly people regard the worth of women. The excuses that Samsa had left for his ‘lover’ can also be seen as an underestimation of a women’s education, where women are presented to be uneducated and seen as dull and unintelligent with a lack of knowledge of the real world. In both texts, readers are able to feel how the males in the stories look down on the females, treating them as though they are much weaker and are the more submissive person in the relationship.

In conclusion, by inserting real-life context into parts of the texts, such as the silencing and sexualising of female characters, Murakami is able to effectively show women’s experiences in society. Where women are not viewed as highly as men despite their qualifications, and are usually only judged by their appearances and how they are able to satisfy the men around them.

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