1Q84 Haruki Murakami Review and Analysis

The following analysis of 1Q84 does not include a plot summary, and is intended to be read by people who are already familiar with the book.

In “1Q84,” Haruki Murakami addresses the fine line that separates the creative life of an artist from actual madness.

“Maybe it’s just that I’ve gone crazy…don’t all mental patients insist that they are perfectly fine and it’s the world around them that is crazy? Aren’t I just proposing the wild hypothesis of parallel worlds as a way to justify my own madness?”

“Rather than madness, its something that resembles madness.”

“Aomame and the dowager…shared something that resembled madness. It may well have been sheer madness itself, though Aomame was unable to locate the dividing line.”

The artist works by listening to the intuitive voices from his inner landscape, and the mentally ill person listens to these same voices. The difference is that the artist listens to these voices, and uses his willpower to transform what he hears into a work of art. The artist makes the journey back from the world of his imagination, bringing the completed artwork with him as an offering to other people. (David Cole called this return journey of the artist “rounding” in his book The Theatrical Event.) The mentally ill person, on the other hand, makes a kind of religion of listening to his voices. He surrenders his personal will, and remains trapped permanently in a world where there is great confusion about what comes from the imagination, and what comes from the outer world. He gives the inner voices total power over his life.

The Little People in 1Q84 can be seen as the embodiment of the persuasive power of these inner voices. Many novelists have noted that, when writing a novel, their characters take on such a powerful sense of independent existence that they seem to carry on their lives independently of the writer. Just as the powerful, seemingly real nature of a story can tempt a writer to abandon reason and to believe completely in the imaginative world of his novel, the Little People are constantly looking for conduits, for people who can convince others to follow their Voices slavishly and unquestioningly, as do the members of the Sakigake cult.

The act of constructing an “air chrysalis,” as described in 1Q84, is like writing a novel: you pull the story elements “out of the air” to create a new entity, an entity which has a ghostly resemblance to the original “real world.” The relationship of the maza to the dohta in the novel is like the relationship between the the real life of a novelist and the the world of his novel.

The bizarre sex ritual enacted between the Sakegake Leader and his pre-pubescent Shrine Maidens, in which the Leader becomes completely paralyzed, while the girls, in a state of possession, attempt futilely to become impregnated by him, resembles the mind of a mentally ill person. Like the Leader, the madman has completely surrendered his willpower to the inner Voice. But his creative energy (like the Leader’s semen) can’t be utilized to make a real product, an artwork. The results of his state of surrender are sterile, and have no creative power.

Tengo, Aomame, and the dowager are all either victims of violent abuse, or they suffer because someone they love has been abused. The dowager loses her daughter to domestic violence. Tengo’s mother is murdered, and it is strongly implied that his father is the murderer. Aomame loses her only two friends to sexual violence. It is never stated that she herself was abused as a child, but it is implied throughout the novel that she may indeed have suppressed memories of childhood abuse, fueling her lifelong obsession with revenge against violent men. (And maybe also coloring her own sexual tastes, in which she conquers and deflates the sexual power of an older man with thinning hair.)

The result of abuse, for Aomame and the dowager, is to keep them in a perpetual state of unresolved anger. The anger is what keeps them alive and keeps them from giving in to despair, but Aomame must move beyond her anger, in order to become a fully integrated, creative being, as she does at the end of the book, where after losing her anger she becomes pregnant. (Murakami is not implying that women have to have babies instead of being artists. He is drawing a parallel between the creative gestation of writing a novel, and the experience of becoming a mother.)

Both Tengo and Aomame are too damaged by their abusive pasts to be able to love another person, as seen in their repeated failures, since the age of ten, to reach out and build a relationship with each other or with anyone else. Only when they have healed from their traumas are they finally able, at the novel’s end, to love one another, and also to become creative beings. (Aomame as a mother, and Tengo as a novelist.)

In the novel, the policewoman Tamaki is described as being “in a state close to madness” as a result of her childhood sexual abuse. Many victims of abuse suffer from mental illness. Most abusers were themselves the victims of childhood abuse. If they can’t heal from the abuse, they will be stuck listening to the inner Voice of their abuser over and over, and repeatedly acting out the role either of victim or of abuser. Once again, the result of violence is that it tempts one to madness, and is an obstacle to creativity.

In 1Q84, the writing and especially publishing of the book “Air Chrysalis” is depicted as being such a powerful act that it defeats the power of the Little People. The act of using one’s willpower to transform the imagination into an artwork, and the sharing of this real product, a novel, with other people, defeats the power of the inner voices to enslave us permanently in the worlds of our imagination.

In the last third of the book, both Tengo and Aomame make repeated references to the danger they experience from living in a world where imaginary events and real events become confused with each other. When elements from the novel “Air Chrysalis” make an appearance in the real world (such as the two moons, an echo of Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren), Tengo experiences a sense of ontological danger. This is the same feeling of danger a novelist feels if the world of his novel begins to seem too real, and he begins to expect he will run into his own characters in the real world. This state of mind can make a novelist feel like he is in danger of losing his mind.

At the end of the novel, Aomame’s assertion of her own willpower is depicted as the key to overcoming her anger and becoming an integrated, creative being. She successfully finds love, protects her baby, and returns from the world of the imagination back to the ordinary world. In the same way, Tengo overcomes his aimless drifting by asserting his will, and he is able to carry the precious manuscript of his novel back from the imaginary world of 1Q84 back into the ordinary world of 1984.