James Joyce’s “Araby” and Haruki Muraka’s “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning”
Due to the commonality of human nature, regardless of the time, novelists write on similar themes. A book written in the 1700s and one written last week could have the same emotional dilemma. Thus authors have been writing about the many sides of love for generations, because it is one the most basic, and complex, of needs. It comes as no surprise, then, that the short stories “Araby,” written by James Joyce in 1905, and “On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning,” authored by Haruki Muraka in 1994, may have occurred in two different generations in different parts of the world, but deal with the same theme of love fantasy vs. reality. In both stories, the protagonists wish love to be like the imagined “eros,” erotic idealism, that is read about in a fairy tale with a perfect union that ends “happy ever after.”
Love is a central theme in many of Joyce’s stories and novels, yet his characters always find it difficult to define. Even Joyce, himself, found it a problem to use the word “love.” When Nora asked him if he loved her responded in a round-about way that he “was very fond of her, desired her, admired and honored her, and wished to secure her happiness in every way; and if these elements were what is called love then perhaps his affection for her was a kind of love” (Ellmann 6). Joyce’s confusion about love and its many varied sides is voiced in a number of his characters. In his works, he writes about all kinds of love from the most ideal and unrealistic to that of friends, family, God, and husband and wife.
In Dubliners, at the turning point in “The Dead,” when the story shifts from a social situation to a personal experience, Gabriel asks himself, “What is a woman standing on the stairs in the shadow, listening to distant music, a symbol of?” As noted by Bloom (23) the substance of this query — the relationship between a woman and the image of woman — has been ignored, even though the story is based on a series of challenges by separate women to Gabriel’s traditional viewpoints of women and “even though Joyce himself was preoccupied with this subject throughout his life.”
There is no difficulty understanding the type of love that Joyce is portraying in “Araby,” as the boy narrator exclaims while nearly swooning, “All my senses seemed to desire to veil themselves and, feeling that I was about to slip from them, I pressed the palms of my hands together until they trembled, murmuring: ‘O love! O. love!’ many times.” The readers can literally see the young boy drool.
Araby” relates the tale of a poor, romantically besotted young adolescent boy who, because he hindered by his relative’s slowness, travels with innocent urgency, coins in hand, to an apparently magical carnival to find his “true love,” — only to find instead, behind its tawdry facades, just a squalid, money grasping, sexually tinged reality that frustrates and embitters him. Like other stories by Joyce, this episode traces a modern boy’s passage from innocence to experience and exposes some of the pains and complexities of that passage (Wells 127). When the young boy arrives at the bazaar and hears the banter between the two men and the sexual tone behind it, “he recognizes in the flirtatious banter there between the salesgirl and her two English admirers, and in the two men counting money, something uncomfortably close to the nature of his own longing: his dream, he later sees, was actually sexual, and money would not buy it” (Ibid).
Like an Arabian, the boy is searching for a mystical world to break away from the dullness of his own life. The metaphorically described North Richmond Street shows the reader the dismal quality of the boy’s world. The area is “blind,” the houses are “quiet,” “cold,” in the “dark muddy lanes” and “dark dripping gardens.” However, it is not a threatening or violent neighborhood, just one of ennui to a 12-year-old boy who lives with an older aunt and uncle.
The boy is looking for adventure, but he is also looking for elusive love, since his relationships are as lifeless as the streets. The uncle, for example, forgets to arrive home in time for the boy to leave, demonstrating that his nephew is not high on his list of priorities. Instead, the uncle has been out socializing with his own friends and negligent and indifferent to his nephew’s needs. The boy waits well into the night in the “imperturbable” house with its musty smell and old, useless objects filling the rooms. The house, like the aging aunt and uncle, and similar to the entire neighborhood, reflects people who are into their own desires and means of escape.
Another type of love, the spiritual love of God, also is painted in bleak tones. The former tenant of the house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room. His room, as well, musty air from being too long enclosed, hung everywhere. As well, in the waste room behind the kitchen it is littered with old drying up and yellowing papers. Among these the boy had found a few paper-covered books with curled and damp pages, such as the Abbot, by Walter Scott, the Devout Communicant, and the Memoirs of Vidocq. Even the wild garden behind the house, which could be in bloom, only contains a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes with the late tenant’s rusty bicycle-pump.
The boy looks for ways to fill the tedious days, and thought of Magan’s sister as the way to escape into some mystical world, like “Araby were called to me through the silence in which my soul luxuriated and cast an Eastern enchantment over me.” The boy is dreaming of his first love as it was painted in fairy tales and romance books. It does not matter who the love is apparently, because the girl, Mangan’s sister, goes by no name, but just that this event happens in his life.
Mangan’s sister represents all that is ideal and an escape into the dream. She is the personification of all his boyish dreams of the beauty of physical desire and the embodiment of his adoration of all that is holy. She fulfills more than one type of love. In his dark, boring environment she stands out as a figure brightened by light, with the power to burn within him a glowing sexual desire. Her image, which he cannot shake, makes him feel as if he carries a holy “chalice” through a “throng of foes” She is the negation to the drunken men, bargaining women, cursing laborers, and each of the others who no longer have a connection with the mystical beauty his young mind creates to leave behind this world of material ugliness.
However at the end, he is no better off than these others who have lost the light. His dreams, his first erotic thoughts, are broken, as he lingers before the stall, though he knows his stay is useless. Then he turns away slowly, not only from the booth but from his senseless thoughts, and walks down the middle of the bazaar. He lets the pennies fall in his pocket, as they remind him of women are to be propositioned and paid for. Then he hears a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out in the bazaar as well as his spiritual light. The upper part of the hall is now completely dark and the dream comes to an end. “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger.”
The boy in “Araby” does not even make it to an unrequited love. He does not even have the opportunity to meet with the girl of his dreams and see what could transpire. Instead, the dream is over before anything materializes. Within just an hour of time, he goes from a naive youth to a growing young man. The boy understands that all his hopes exist only in his imagination and is angered by his self-deception and vanity. He has gone through initiation, a rite of passage from innocence to reality.
Haruki Murakami also has the themes of love running through his stories, as well as the disillusionment that comes when individuals recognize that things are not as they are expected to be. In Murakami’s works, as in those of Joyce, there is a mode of searching for another world, be it love or another fantasy. He states in the voice of the narrator in Hear the Wind Sing, “If it’s art or literature you’re looking for, you’d do well to read the Greeks…. That’s how it is with art. Mere humans who root through their refrigerators at three o’clock in the morning can only produce writing that matches what they do. And that includes me.”
It is with a Wild Sheep Chase, his third novel published in 1982, that Murakami begins to delve more into the surrealistic, dream world of the opposite sex. A girl whose unusually beautiful and super-sensitive ears confer extraordinary pleasures: “She’d shown me her ears on occasion; mostly on sexual occasions. Sex with her ears exposed was an experience I’d never previously known. When it was raining, the smell of rain came through crystal-clear. When birds were singing, their song was a thing of sheer clarity.”
Murakami’s fiction that include characters’ with workaday mundane lives are often abruptly interrupted and sent irrevocably off course into some dreamlike worlds by the most apparent insignificant events. For example, in the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle the narrator is searching for a missing cat and comes to a vacant lot and later to the bottom of a well, through which he travels into a maze of hotel corridors where he must outrun his brother-in-law’s henchmen to survive.
During his lifetime, Murakami’s own life significantly changed direction in a similar, though less surreal, way. Apparently, as he relates his story, in April 1978 he was at a baseball game in Jingu Stadium between the Yakult and Hiroshima teams when a double by the American player Dave Hilton convinced him he had to write a novel. Just five months later, Murakami sent the manuscript to a publisher from a post office across from the stadium. The novel, Hear the Wind Sing, which was published in 1979, sold over 200,000 copies.
Similar to Joyce, Murakami uses his novels and short stories as a means of having his characters looking for answers, in his case, “as a psychological frame to look at postmodern consciousness in Japan. He portrays this postmodern consciousness and its dissociative states of being as symptomatic of a loss of connection to the stable and enduring worlds of mythology and the containing structures of culture and family” (Kimbles 11).
For example, in his novel, Sputnik Sweeheart Murakami sees difficulties in terms of problems in human relationships, as well as a discrepancy in one’s own attitude and personality. The narrator K. had an unattainable love for Sumire and a sexual relationship with another woman, although without love. He had a deep soulful relationship with Sumire, but no physical relationship with her. He had sexual contact with his lover, but no soulful relationship with her. “In this sense we can speak about a dissociation which is situated in one’s own personality and requires a feeling of internal unity first; something is missing” (Kimbles 91).
His short story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning,” follows in this theme of looking for different types of love. Murakami writes about this wistful fairy tale that the characters “were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others, but they believed with their whole hearts that somewhere in the world there lived the 100% perfect boy and the 100% perfect girl for them.” Because they were young and still uninitiated, they still felt that miracles, happily ever afters, could still occur (Literature online).
Murakami uses the prose in the in his story to stress this fairy-tale quality that the boy and girl desire. For example, “Oh, well. It would have started ‘Once upon a time’ and ended ‘A sad story, don’t you think?’ Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl. The boy was eighteen and the girl sixteen. He was not unusually handsome, and she was not especially beautiful. They were just an ordinary lonely boy and an ordinary lonely girl, like all the others.”
Yet, when given the opportunity for this miracle, the two are reluctant and want to prove that indeed this is the fairy tale, not another type of story in disguise. They decide, due to their personal doubts, to tempt fate and, by fairy-tale stricture, to put their love to the test. If they truly are perfect for one other, fate will intervene once again and their paths will meet. The years go by, and it is not until they have reached their 30’s that one morning they accidentally meet each other on the street.
However, now when they see each other for the second time it is too late. The naivete and fantasies of youth no longer exist. This time, they are adults and see each other with adult eyes and constraints — the 100% is no longer a reality. With only “the faintest gleam of their lost memories” in their hearts, they pass each other by and disappear into the crowd.
Unfortunately, both the boy and the girl — now the man and the woman — no longer have their childhood dreams. Instead, they only see the realities of adulthood. The fantasies, the fairy tales are a thing of the past. Thus, like the boy narrator in “Araby,” they have come of age and can never return to the innocence of youth.
Bloom, Harold. James Joyce Dubliners. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1988
Ellmann, Richard. Joyce in Love. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library, 1959.
Joyce, James. “Araby” 4, May 2007. http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/araby.html
Kimbles, Samuel. The Cultural Complex: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004.
Literature Online Biography. Murakami Haruki, 2006 Proquest.
Murakami, Haruki. Sputnik Sweetheart New York: Knopf, 1991
Wild Sheep Chase New York: Kodansha America, 1989
Hear the wind sing New York: Kodansha America, 1979
____ “On seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning,” 4, May
Wells, Walter. John Updike’s “A&P”: A Return Visit to Araby Studies in Short Fiction
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