Conversation Peace, Essay, Film, Literature

// conversation peace // Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

“How much do you love me?” Midori asked.
“Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said.

Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami

When daring and vulnerability meet, this is their union: free-falling confession. I admire Norwegian Wood for this and much more. To read the novel is to know these displays of honesty; their population density is high. To read the novel is to also know first and second love. 1960s Tokyo is the bedroom. Adulthood is flying apart as fast as it’s catching its breath. I will not describe any more of the book. The author tells it the best.

Below, I present essay topics and discussion questions, because I once taught this novel at Pasadena City College. I invite you now to teach it to yourselves and to share it in classrooms, book clubs, asylums, and coffee shops. I only warn that this article is for educational purposes. It is copyrighted and not to be published elsewhere. I have timed its release with the film adaption opening in U.S. theaters this month. Stills from the movie by Tran Anh Hung decorate this page. If you are unfamiliar with Norwegian Wood, I do not recommend reading more after this paragraph. Plot details live downstream.

Honestly,
Tommy Tung

Move with Accord Progression

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—– remember —–

There are no correct answers in Accord Progression, only Conversation Peace.

—– the novel —–

Norwegian Wood
written by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin

—– the essay topics —–

Choose one topic below. Write a 500-700-word-essay. Your essay must have five paragraphs: an introduction, three supporting points, and a conclusion.

1. The Science of Scumbags 

“Languages are like games. You learn the rules for one, and they all work the same way. Like women” (201), says Nagasawa. Essay Question: What is the rule that applies to all the women you have read about: Naoko, Midori, Reiko?

  • Tips: Think about defining this rule. Think about the moments in the novel that form this rule.

2. You Feel Me?

“I don’t feel it’s O.K. if nobody understands me. I’ve got people I want to understand and be understood by. But aside from those few, I figure it’s kind of hopeless. I don’t agree with Nagasawa. I do care if people understand me” (210), Toru says to Hatsumi. Essay Question: Why does Toru care if others understand him?

  • Tips: Look for moments in which he seeks compassion or understanding from Naoko, Midori, or Reiko. Prove that Toru needs empathy from any or all of them.

3. Table For One

“But Watanabe’s practically the same as me. He may be a nice guy, but deep down in his heart, he’s incapable of loving anybody. There’s always some part of him that’s wide awake and detached. He just has that hunger that won’t go away” (210), Nagasawa says about Toru to Hatsumi. Essay Question: Why isn’t Toru capable of loving anybody?

  • Tips: Look for moments in which he chooses numbness over love for Midori. What is he thinking in these moments? What is he feeling? What is the source of these feelings?

4. All the Tigers in the World

“You were so nice to me when I was having my problems, but now that you’re having yours, it seems there’s not a thing I can do for you. You’re all locked up in that little world of yours, and when I try knocking on the door, you sort of look up for a second and go right back inside” (253), Midori writes in a letter to Toru. Essay Question: Argue the reason why Midori can save Toru.

  • Tips: Examine the scenes with Midori and Toru. First, define Toru’s problems. Then, figure out the qualities of Midori that will solve these problems. Consider how she keeps Toru in touch with the real world. Consider what she likes about Toru (“You talk like Humphrey Bogart. Cool. Tough.” — page 51). Consider how Toru loves her (“enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter” — page 265).

5. Time to Get Hurt

“Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that” (269), Reiko writes to Toru. Essay Questions: Argue that Naoko died at the right time in Toru’s life.

Tips: Think about what’s going on in Toru’s life with Midori. Why is Naoko’s death the appropriate obstacle? What values, ideas, and beliefs are challenged by the death? Think about how he copes with the death—did he deal successfully with things?

6. Orderly Conduct

In the beginning of the novel, Toru provides a flashback with Naoko and the meadow and the field well. This takes place at the sanatorium. Essay Question: Why do we learn about Naoko and the field well before we begin the larger flashback (Toru in college)?

  • Tips: You must have a convincing thesis about the narrative effect of the flashback. What impressions about Naoko do you learn from the flashback in the meadow? Think about how the novel would function if we simply learned about Naoko and Kizuki on pages 18-25. Why isn’t this information enough for the reader? How are your impressions about Naoko from the meadow scene confirmed throughout the novel?

Study Guide | Discussion Questions

Chapter One

  • Based on her words and actions, how would you describe Naoko?
  • Why do Toru and Naoko keep this idea (of a field well) alive?
  • What does the field well represent for each of them? What informs this?
  • Her problems won’t continue for the rest of her life—any guesses on what problems?
  • Why doesn’t Murakami detail the problems for us? Isn’t it important to understand them?

Chapter Two

  • How do Toru’s descriptions of the dormitory differ from his ones of the meadow (Chapter One)?
  • Toru says, “It made no practical difference to me whether the place was right wing or left wing or anything else” (12). He also claims to not care too much about the ritual of the flag. Do you believe him in both cases? Why does he pay attention to these things, if he doesn’t care?
  • Why does the name, Storm Trooper, work better than his real name in the story?
  • Naoko looks different (19). What do you think caused these changes? What clues informed your assumptions?
  • How is their interaction different than the memory in the meadow?
  • What do you think Naoko means when saying, “It’s like I’m split in two and playing tag with myself” (21)?
  • Why is the back-story of Toru, Naoko, and Kizuki on page 22 and not before this moment in the story?
  • Do you think Kizuki had already planned his suicide when he and Toru were playing pool? What information might imply this?
  • When Toru left Kobe and the girl he was sleeping with, was it the right thing to do? How so?

Chapter Three

  • Toru says, “I doubt if I could really love anybody” (28) to Naoko. Does he really believe that? Why does he say that to her?
  • When Toru and Naoko walk close to each other, he says, “None of this had any special meaning” and “My arm was not the one she needed it, but the arm of someone else” (28). He narrates this information. Does he speak the truth to us, the audience? Why or why not?
  • Is it the right thing to do when Toru makes up stories about sex with Naoko for his dorm neighbors?
  • Toru says, “The first time I saw Nagasawa drunk and tormenting a girl, I promised myself never, under any circumstances, to open myself up to him” (32). Why?
  • “As much as I found myself caught up in Nagasawa’s power, though, I still missed Kizuiki” (32). Throughout the novel, Toru feels more tied to the past than to the college life he’s living. Pay attention to what pushes him toward one life or the other.
  • “When you’re surrounded by endless possibilities, one of the hardest things to do is pass them up” (34). This is Nagasawa’s philosophy on womanizing. Does it make sense to you?
  • Consider Toru’s male friends, Kizuki and Nagasawa. Each one is entirely different from each other and from Toru. Is this realistic? Why does Toru get along with each of them? Why are they his friends? Does he understand his friendship to each person?
  • “Each tale had its own internal logic, but the link from one to the next was odd” (38). Toru describes Naoko’s unusual behavior; she tells many stories. Why does she do this? What is her goal? Is talking this way effective for her goal?
  • “I slept with Naoko that night. Was it the right thing to do?” (39). This is Toru’s question. How would you answer him?
  • How does Murakami write the love scene between Toru and Naoko? Why does he write it this way?
  • “She and I had probably needed each other more than either of us knew” (41). Do you agree with Toru? Why?
  • On page 45, how does the description of the roof and the nighttime scenery relate to Toru’s emotional state? What words indicate this?
  • Toru’s memories of fireflies are brighter than the firefly in front of him. How does Toru’s vivid memory, here, relate to the overall story so far? Consider the firefly and its behavior.

Chapter Four

  • Earlier Toru claimed that the campus politics didn’t matter. So why does he describe the politics in the beginning of this chapter?
  • “Hey, Kizuki, I thought, you’re not missing a damn thing” (48). It is rare for Toru to directly address his dead friend. Why does he do it in this instance? Why doesn’t he just deliver his comment to us?
  • Why does Toru stay silent during roll call?
  • Based on the conversation on pages 50-53, do Toru and Midori have a future together? Why? What about their candor, their expressions, their comments indicate this?
  • “Don’t be silly. I’m just an ordinary guy. Like everybody else” (51). Is Toru being honest or modest or both when he says this? Does he sound like Humphrey Bogart, as Midori believes?
  • “And in fact no one had ever told me there was anything unusual about the way I spoke” (53). Toru is self-conscious of his speech. Does he appreciate Midori’s observation? As you read further, consider Midori, her observations of Toru, and his continuing introspection. Does she help him understand himself?
  • “You know, Watanabe, I have this feeling like, maybe ten years or twenty years after we get out of this place, we’re going to meet up again somewhere. And one way or another, I think we’re going to have some connection” (55). This is what Nagasawa believes. Does Toru believe it? How does his reply indicate this? Do you believe Nagasawa?
  • “I rather doubt that the world has problems far more urgent and relevant than Greek tragedy, but you’re not going to listen to anything I have to say, so do what you like” (57). Toru’s professor says this to political protestors. How can his wisdom be directed toward Toru’s personal problems with Naoko, too? Is their story like a Greek tragedy or tragic in a different sense?
  • “We had met that day because we were supposed to meet. If we hadn’t met then and there, we would have met somewhere else sometime. I didn’t have any basis for thinking this: it was just a feeling” (59). Toru believes this about Naoko and him. Do you agree with him? Why? What do you think is the basis of Toru’s “feeling”? Is he rational here? Is he rational in general?
  • On pages 59-62, Midori describes her high school classmates, her relief to be in college, and her part-time occupation as a map note writer. From these details, what do you think is her goal in life? Does she have ambitions? Does she possess the ennui that Toru does, or is she more passionate about life? Do you see her ending up with someone like Toru?
  • “You weren’t expecting my cooking to be very good, were you – judging from my looks” (67). Why is there a difference between Midori’s appearance and her perceived culinary ability? What other assumptions might Toru (or we) make about her based on physical features alone?
  • “Girls are supposed to be a little more elegant when they put their cigarettes out. You did that like a lumberjack” (70). Is Toru criticizing or complimenting Midori? Is this the part of her personality that he is attracted to? What might indicate this?
  • “Forget it,” she said. “We never worry about what the neighbors might think” (74). Midori’s attitude about singing while watching the fire sounds very similar to her assessment of Toru: “You make it obvious you don’t care whether people like you or not. That makes some people mad” (70). Do you think that during their evening together, they realize this similarity? How? 
  • At the bottom of page 75, Midori confesses her inability to feel after her parents left her life. This confession comes after her song, “I Have Nothing.” Is she callous like Toru OR Naoko? If she is emotionally vacant—in some way—is it more severe than the other characters?
  • Pages 76-77 reveal Midori’s idea of perfect love. Toru remarks that it’s crazy. She believes that it’s necessary. Is she justified in her desire?
  • “For a certain kind of person, love begins from something tiny or silly. From something like that or it doesn’t begin at all” (77). Midori is this kind of person. Is Toru? Is Naoko? Was Midori addressing Toru with this comment?
  • On page 77, Midori puts death into context: she would rather die by fire (because the smoke would kill her quickly) than die like her relatives, “a long, long process.” Kizuki died by choking—almost painlessly. Do you think Midori’s philosophy is related to Kizuki’s suicide?
  • At the bottom of page 79, Toru thinks about Kizuki, his death, and his friendship. He says he cannot make sense of all of it. Is he being honest or afraid? Can you make sense of everything at this point in the story?
  • “I had been feeling especially foggy-brained for the past week and was ready to sleep with anybody, it didn’t matter much who” (80). Why is Toru foggy-brained? Is it from thinking about Kizuki or wondering about Midori or both? What clues point you to your conclusion?
  • “Nobody knows how I feel,” spat out the little one, still tearing grass (83). This is the stranger that Toru sleeps with. Do you think sex helped Toru understand how she felt? Examine Murakami’s descriptions of the lovemaking. How do these actions communicate the love she has for her boyfriend?
  • “Each scene felt unreal and strangely distanced, as if I were viewing it through two or three layers of glass” (83). Toru comments on the surreal quality of his night out with Nagasawa and the two girls he met. In reading the scene, does it feel the way Toru describes, or does it feel this way, merely because he has a bad hangover?

Chapter Five

  • “I can’t do what you do: I can’t slip inside my shell and wait for things to pass” (86). This is how Naoko describes Toru in her letter to him. Is it accurate? Do you think Toru is aware of his behavior? Does he agree with Naoko’s assessment?
  • “That’s what distinguishes us from the outside world: most people go about their lives there unconscious of their deformities, while in this little world of ours the deformities themselves are a precondition” (87). Toru, Nagasawa, and Midori are part of the outside world. What is the deformity of each person? Is each aware of his or her deformity?
  • “The one real problem with this facility is that once you’re here, you don’t want to leave—or you’re afraid to leave. As long as we’re here, we feel calm and peaceful. Our deformities seem natural. We think we’ve recovered. But we can never be sure that the outside world would accept us in the same way” (88). Naoko says this about her rehabilitation center. Could you say the same about Toru and college campus life? In what ways?

Chapter Six

  • On pages 90 to 92, Toru describes the bus ride and the changing scenery. Consider this from a novelist’s point of view. Why does Murakami include such descriptions of twisty roads, rural environments, and buses? Think about the differences between the city and the country. Why doesn’t Murakami begin the chapter when Toru arrives at the Ami Hostel? What does the reader gain from this preceding sequence?
  • “So everyone here is equal—patients, staff—and you. You’re one of us while you’re in here, so I help you and you help me” (97). Here, Reiko paraphrases the ideology of the sanatorium. At this point in the story, do you have any assumptions on Reiko’s problems? Do you believe that Toru can help other people? Do you think Reiko can help Toru? What about his impressions of Reiko on page 94 indicate this?
  • “You’ve got this funny way of talking,” she said. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to imitate that boy in Catcher in the Rye?” (100). Earlier Midori thought Toru had a cool way of talking. Here, Reiko thinks his speech is peculiar. Is she complimenting him or figuring him out? What does it mean “imitate that boy in Catcher in the Rye”? What was that boy like? Is Toru similar to the boy?
  • “There are people who can open their hearts and people who can’t. You’re one of the ones who can. Or, more precisely, you can if you want to” (100). Reiko believes in Toru. Is Toru aware of his ability? Is Naoko capable of this ability? Is Nagasawa? Was Kizuki?
  • Pages 100 to 102, Toru details the sanatorium. When observing the tennis players, he writes, “They slammed the ball back and forth with a strange kind of concentration” (100). Does Toru have “a strange kind of concentration” when narrating here?
  • Pages 102 to 103, Toru recalls a motorcycle trip with Kizuki. It’s not an extraordinary story. What occasions this reverie?
  • In the dining room, Toru says, “I wanted to hear people laughing and shouting for no reason and saying overblown things. That was just the kind of noise I had grown sick of in recent months, but sitting here and eating fish in this unnaturally quiet room, I couldn’t relax” (106-107). Later with Reiko and Naoko, Toru says, “As the three of us sat facing the candle amid these hushed surroundings, it began to seem as if we were the only ones left on some far edge of the world” (108). He is obviously disturbed by the dining hall, but regarding this solitude in the living quarters, is Toru happy or uneasy about it?
  • “That song can make me feel so sad,” said Naoko. “I don’t know, I guess I imagine myself wandering in a deep wood. I’m all alone and it’s cold and dark, and nobody comes to save me” (109). The reader first learns about the significance of “Norwegian Wood” here. Why do you think Naoko needs to hear it occasionally? How does it help her? How does her description of the song relate to the field well on pages 5-7?
  • On page 109, Toru describes Naoko’s beauty in opposing terms; she has gained something and lost something. Is this beauty preferable to the one described earlier on page 19?
  • On page 110, Toru and Naoko discuss Nagasawa as a friend and as a person. Is it clear to you why Toru hangs out with him? Is it clear to Naoko?
  • “You want to know why you felt that way about me even though you didn’t love me” (112). Toru attempts to understand Naoko’s frustration—why Toru turned her on but Kizuki didn’t. Is this the reason she came to the sanatorium or do you think she has other issues to resolve?
  • “So after [Kizuki] died, I didn’t know how to relate to other people. I didn’t know what it means to love another person” (112). Naoko is being honest; she believes this. But, is it true? Isn’t it possible that she can love Toru but is afraid to allow it? What clues might support this interpretation?
  • As Toru watches Naoko’s window at night (page 113), he compares it to Jay Gatsby. The reader has the freedom of interpreting Toru’s behavior another way. On pages 45-46, Toru watches the faint light of a firefly. Is this earlier scene similar to this one? In what physical ways? In what thematic ways—that is—do we learn the same things about Toru from both scenes?
  • “She’s letting her feelings out. The scary thing is not being able to do that. Then your feelings build up and harden and die inside. That’s when you’re in big trouble” (114). Reiko reassures Toru that Naoko is dealing with issues in a healthy manner. Do you think that Kizuki failed to follow Reiko’s science? Is this the reason he took his own life? Based on Reiko’s theory of psychology, what do you think Kizuki was holding inside himself?
  • On page 115, Reiko believes that Naoko has several problems that are all tangled up. Can you name some of them?
  • “Like Naoko, I’m not really sure what it means to love another person” (115). Toru believes that this same problem may prevent him from being with Naoko? Do you recognize other reasons that may prevent him from loving Naoko?
  • On page 117, Reiko defines her early life by ambitions to become a concert pianist. It was her whole life up to one point. Naoko’s entire life was also devoted to Kizuki up to a point. Is this the only reason that the two women get along so well? How is each problem similar? Different?
  • On page 125, Reiko pauses the telling of her life history. She claims that she and Toru should return to Naoko. Do you believe this is the real reason? Consider the author. Is there a reason that Murakami has Reiko pause her biography here, rather than other parts?
  • On pages 126 to 129, Naoko provides a good glimpse of the dynamic between Toru, Kizuki, and her.
  • At the bottom of page 128, Naoko explains her theory on why her relationship with Kizuki was doomed and how Toru prevented it for a while. 
  • “We never meant to hurt you, but we probably did; we probably ended up making a deep wound in your heart. It never occurred to us that anything like that might happen” (129). Naoko speaks for Kizuki and herself. Do you think the opposite might true as well—that Toru has somehow hurt Naoko without intention?
  • On pages 131 to 132, Toru explains the newfound beauty of Naoko’s body, along with his memories of making love to her. Is his understanding of that night possible because of Naoko’s nudity? Or did he already understand that night? Reconsider by reading the event on pages 39 to 40.
  • “How come you always like people like that—people like us, I mean? We’re all kinda weird and twisted and drowning—me and Kizuki and Reiko. Why can’t you like more normal people?” (141), Naoko questions Toru. If she sees herself this way, does she see Toru as twisted and drowning, too, or normal?
  • On pages 143 to 146, Naoko explains her sister’s suicide and the history of depression in her family. Why does she do this? Does she owe it to Toru? Is she trying to scare him away on purpose? Is she trying to get him to love her, to understand her, or to let go of her?
  • Pages 148 to 161 are all about Reiko and her piano pupil. The story doesn’t involve Toru or Naoko, so how does it relate to the novel? Why does Murakami include this segment? What would happen if this 13-page story were missing from Norwegian Wood? How would that affect the book? What do we learn about Reiko from this story? Does this fit your first impressions of her?
  • “He had done everything he could to heal me, and I had done everything I could to be healed, both for his sake and for our daughter’s sake. And I had believed in my recovery” (160), Reiko says about her husband. How does this couple’s relationship resemble Toru and Naoko’s? What might we assume about Toru and Naoko’s future based on Reiko and her husband’s?
  • On pages 164-166, Toru describes his first night back in the outside world. Based on his descriptions, what do you think his attitude is? Is he happy about where he is? Was he happy about being in the sanatorium? Is one place better than the other for him? What world do you think he belongs in? Why?

Chapter Seven

  • Pages 167-168, Toru responds to Midori with “I see” several times. This is uncharacteristic of him. Why does he respond this way? What does he “see” now that he didn’t before?
  • On page 169, Midori proposes two fantasy scenarios, each involving Toru. What is the purpose of both scenarios? Compliments? Banter? Is she in love with him? Is she checking if he is in love with her?
  • On pages 173-175, Midori asks Toru questions about sex because her boyfriend won’t answer them. What kind of person does this boyfriend sound like and why are he and Midori together?
  • Toru says that in order to read a difficult work like Das Kapital, you have to know Marxism (177). Consider the notion of prerequisites. Much of Norwegian Wood concerns Toru figuring out other people. Does he have to know special subjects before understanding Naoko, Reiko, Kizuki, or Midori?
  • Pages 177-180, Midori describes how phony the liberal revolutionaries are and how their ideas won’t change a thing. She very much believes herself to be an outsider. Toru feels like an outsider. Does he have the same disdain for those around him or is it different?
  • On page 183-184, Midori imagines who Naoko is (and isn’t anywhere near correct). Does this description serve to compliment Toru or comfort Midori that he is like her: sexually liberal?
  • Many pages describe the time at the hospital when Midori and Toru care for her father. Consider Murakami’s purpose for including these scenes. Are they in any way related to Toru visiting Naoko and caring for her? What does Midori do for her father at the hospital? What does Toru do for Naoko at the sanatorium?
  • “A bunch of people appear and they’ve all got their own situations and reasons and excuses, and each one is pursuing his or her own brand of justice or happiness. As a result, nobody can do anything” (190), Toru describes Euripedes’ style of Greek tragedy to Midori’s father. Earlier the History of Drama professor says, to political protesters, “I rather doubt that the world has problems far more urgent and relevant than Greek tragedy, but you’re not going to listen to anything I have to say, so do what you like” (57). Is the relationship between Greek tragedy and Norwegian Wood clear? Why would Toru want to explain such an emotional philosophy to the father, a man who doesn’t know him and who doesn’t say much?
  • “As I was sipping the hot liquid, I realized that I had developed a kind of liking for this little man on the verge of death” (192), Toru says about Midori’s father. What does he like about the man? Examine the man’s behavior and see if there are any similarities. Does he talk like Toru or think like him? Is the father an outsider as well?
  • On page 194, Midori describes how her father wasn’t aware of a major catastrophe (the Kanto earthquake), even though he was in the middle of it. Is Toru Watanabe anything like this?

Chapter Eight

  • “Languages are like games. You learn the rules for one, and they all work the same way. Like women” (201), says Nagasawa. From what you have observed in the novel, is this rule true? Is there a rule that applies to all the women you have read about: Naoko, Midori, Reiko? What is the rule? What are the aspects? What moments in the novel help you understand this rule?
  • “You know, Toru,” she said, “I have no idea what makes your situation so ‘complicated,’ but I do think that the thing you just told me about is not right for you. You’re not that kind of person” (207), Hatsumi says in regards to Toru womanizing and switching sex partners with Nagasawa. Is she right? Why isn’t this behavior right for Toru? What do you think she recognizes about Toru in this scene that elicits her response? What would be right for Toru? What is the solution?
  • “If I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry. But it’s not a question of whether or not you’re enough for me. I can only live with that hunger. That’s the kind of man I am. That’s what makes me me” (208), Nagasawa tells Hatsumi about his promiscuous pastime. Earlier Naoko tells Toru, “And just as Kizuki loved you, I love you. We never meant to hurt you, but we probably did; we probably ended up making a deep wound in your heart. It never occurred to us that anything like that might happen” (129). It seems that many characters behave a certain way to express their desires and their individuality—all at the cost of hurting others. Is Toru guilty of this? Does he hurt Naoko? How? Why? Or does he hurt Midori? Why can’t he stop himself from hurting her?
  • “I don’t feel it’s O.K. if nobody understands me. I’ve got people I want to understand and be understood by. But aside from those few, I figure it’s kind of hopeless. I don’t agree with Nagasawa. I do care if people understand me” (210), Toru says to Hatsumi. Does Toru wish to be understood, because Naoko and Kizuki were content to be enigmas? In other words, does this desire for empathy exist, because he doesn’t wish to end up like Naoko and Kizuki?
  • “But Watanabe’s practically the same as me. He may be a nice guy, but deep down in his heart, he’s incapable of loving anybody. There’s always some part of him that’s wide awake and detached. He just has that hunger that won’t go away” (210), Nagasawa says about Toru to Hatsumi. What hunger does Nagasawa refer to? Why won’t it go away? Has Toru been feeding this hunger? How?
  • On pages 211 to 212, Toru provides a flashforward to tell us about Hatsumi’s marriage and suicide. Why is this necessary for us? Does it add to the story or detract from it? Consider its placement in the chapter. Why do we learn this in the middle of the sequence and not at the end, when Toru and Hatsumi finish drinking?
  • “But there’s nothing I can do but wait for [Nagasawa],” said Hatsumi with her chin in her hand (216). Similarly, there’s nothing Toru can do but wait for Naoko. Toru warned Hatsumi of the dangers of staying with Nagasawa (215-216). What are the dangers of Toru waiting for Naoko? Is he aware of them? Where do you recognize moments of his awareness and where you recognize moments of his ignorance?
  • At the bottom of page 216, Toru knocks on Nagasawa’s door, but he isn’t inside. What do you think Toru was going to say to him?
  • On page 218, Toru finishes a letter to Naoko. His thoughts about Kizuki are something to consider with regard to Toru’s character development. Is he reconciling with the tragedy? Is the scene in the pool hall an indication of this? How has he been getting better? What has been helping him? The time at the sanatorium? Midori? The time with her father?

Chapter Nine

  • “They just keep doing the same things,” I said. “Well, what else can they do? We all just keep doing the same things.” She had a point there (225). In the excerpt, Toru and Midori have just finished watching a pornographic film. What is Midori’s point? What kind of “things” do we just repeat? Sex? Living? Dying? Loving? Waiting? Making mistakes?
  • In this chapter, Midori appears to be falling in love with Toru. “The whole time I was traveling by myself, I was thinking of you” (222), she tells Toru. On pages 226 to 227, she begs to stay the night with him, because he’s the only one who gets her. Is Toru falling in love with her, at the same time? Or at other times? When? Earlier when they first met? Later?
  • On page 231, Toru says many things to lull Midori into a pleasant slumber. Does he mean all these things? Or is he saying them out of request? Is he the type of person who can say things and not mean them?
  • On page 234, Naoko’s letter discusses dead people talking to her, because they are lonely like her. What is the significance of this?

Chapter Ten

  • On page 239, Naoko ponders the mystery of her sexual impotence. Toru believes it could be “psychological.” Specifically, what do you think is creating a mental barrier for her? Is it Toru? Is the past tragedy of Kizuki? Is it her own insecurity that she’ll never get better?
  • “No, we weren’t lovers, but in a way we had opened ourselves to each other more deeply than lovers do. The thought caused me a good deal of grief. What a terrible thing it is to wound someone you really care for – and to do it unconsciously” (243). It seems that Toru is finally guilty of an oversight; Naoko has unconsciously hurt him in the past; now, he has hurt Midori. Does this mean that he’s in love with her? Does treating someone inconsiderately signify love? Is taking someone for granted a symptom of love?
  • On page 248, Toru explains the understanding he has come to regarding Naoko’s condition, his own capability, and even the sense of adult responsibility that Kizuki avoided by killing himself.
  • “You were so nice to me when I was having my problems, but now that you’re having yours, it seems there’s not a thing I can do for you. You’re all locked up in that little world of yours, and when I try knocking on the door, you sort of look up for a second and go right back inside” (253), Midori writes in a letter to Toru. Is he behaving like Naoko? Can Midori save him? What can save him?
  • “I realized that the only way I had been able to survive until then was having you in my life. When I lost you, the pain and loneliness really got to me” (261), Toru shares this grownup realization with Midori.
  • “Are you crazy? You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that?” (262) Midori questions Toru about why she left her boyfriend. Why is Toru so clueless? Is it because he’s afraid to love Midori or because he’s too distracted? What do you think would solve his lack of perception?
  • “How much do you love me?” Midori asked. “Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter,” I said. (265). Explain Toru’s hyperbole. Why is it such a compliment? How much does he love Naoko? Would he be able to express it as a hyperbole? Why or why not? What is it about Toru and Naoko’s relationship that fails to provoke sweet, quirky sentiments?
  • “It was true: I loved Midori. And I had probably known as much for while. I had just been avoiding the conclusion for a very long time” (267), Toru says. Again, question what hinders his acceptance of these feelings.
  • “Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt. Life is like that” (269), Reiko writes to Toru. What does she mean? Should Toru break up with Naoko? Or is Reiko saying that pain is a part of living, that Kizuki and everyone else who commits suicide misses this point?

Chapter Eleven

  • “If this is death,” I thought to myself, “then death is not so bad.” “It’s true,” said Naoko, “death is nothing much. It’s just death. Things are so easy for me here” (273). In this passage, Toru imagines talking to Naoko after her suicide. Before Naoko died, she also claimed to have spoken to dead people. Is the same sickness infecting Toru? Is he becoming suicidal? Is the imaginary Naoko encouraging him to join her in death, because it is so easy? Or she warning him to stay away, because it is the easy way out?
  • “But [Naoko] said, ‘No, that’s not it, Reiko. I’m not worried about that at all. I just don’t want anybody going inside me again. I just don’t want to be violated like that again – by anybody” (284).
  • “You chose Midori. Naoko chose to die. You’re all grown up now, so you have to take responsibility for your choices. Otherwise, you ruin everything” (287), Reiko tells Toru.
  • “You should be happy with Midori. Your pain [from Naoko] has nothing to do with your relationship with [Midori]. If you hurt her any more than you already have, the wound could be too deep to fix. So, hard as it may be, you have to be strong. You have to grow up more, be more of an adult” (288).
  • Why do Reiko and Toru both have sex after their private funeral for Naoko? How does their act of physical union say goodbye to Naoko, their friend?
  • “I never have to do this again,” said Reiko, “for the rest of my life. Oh, please, Watanabe, tell me it’s true. Tell me I can relax now because I’ve done enough to last a lifetime” (292). In this passage, Reiko refers to sex. Does this sound anything like Naoko’s attitude toward sex? Why doesn’t Naoko want sex anymore? What doesn’t Reiko? What is it about Toru that begins and ends the sexual appetite of Naoko and Reiko?
  • “I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning” (293), Toru tells Midori. What kind of beginning do you imagine them having? Is it one in which Toru is completely honest about his past or one in which he no longer dwells upon it? Will this beginning help the two of them succeed in a relationship or is it hopeless?
  • “Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place” (293), Toru concludes the novel. How does this ending complete the story? What questions are left unsolved? What questions are answered? What new questions are formed? Of the old questions, is there a reason Murakami didn’t answer them? Why doesn’t Toru recognize where he is? Why doesn’t he recognize people around him? Is he truly an outsider now? He is usually so adept at describing his surroundings. What enervates him?

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “// conversation peace // Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

  1. I just finished the novel. For some reason I could only read it at night – there was something about the novel that required I read it alone, without distraction, at the end of the day.

    The book will haunt me for years, I think, in ways only the best books can.

    Posted by Scott | March 12, 2012, 12:41 pm
  2. Norwegian Wood
    This is an incredibly profound novel. “Its a lot deeper than you think” -honestly. I adore Haruki’s generosity when it comes to unfolding his characters-they are all, precisely, explained to such depth. I have created a serene spot in my heart for the novel, yet I’m only 16 years old . I appreciate the knowledge I have grasped from the book . I’m glad to have come across the person who recommended it to me .

    Posted by Yandi Gumede | June 6, 2015, 12:18 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: “Norwegian Wood,” my first Murakami | the most happy - December 11, 2013

  2. Pingback: Resenha #12 – Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami – Vintage Books | Menina de Paris - February 10, 2015

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