In the novel, Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the
World by Haruki Murakami, a multifaceted
introspection on the capability of the human mind to shape and reflect reality
is presented. The novel has interchanging chapters set in different locations narrated
by two different first-person narrators. The odd chapters of the book are
considered to be the narrative of the Hard-boiled Wonderland and the even
chapters are considered the narrative of the End of the World. While the
settings, a futuristic Tokyo and an apocalyptic-like town protected by a wall
seem entirely distinct, they are in actuality portrayals of the outer world and
inner mind. The narratives purposely mirror each other and never merge throughout
the novel. Murakami’s intention is to point out that the protagonist in the
Hard-boiled Wonderland can never fully understand his mind. While they may not
merge, the author explores the connections between the two. He does this by
showing that one’s perception of the world and their identity is inseparable
from the pervasive ideologies in society. In simpler terms, Murakami
demonstrates that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure or in this case one
man’s utopia can be another’s dystopian nightmare through the structure and story
of the novel.

To further
understand this concept, consider the case of the narrator in the even chapters
of the novel (End of the World). He enters a dreamy other world, but
subjectively a town enclosed by high walls. After entering the town, his shadow
is cut away from him and he is forced to give up his heart, mind, and all
sentimental memories which leaves him without a true identity. The narrator explores
the town in detail, gets to know all of its inhabitants and realizes shortly
after that everyone is mindless and incapable of forming deeper friendship
bonds. Everyone is given a job, which is their singular function and seems to
experience neither suffering nor worry. This makes us question the circumstances
that some may consider a Utopia. To some it may be. Yet it is a world devoid of
life, love or significance. The narrator struggles to yield to the town’s
rhythm but cannot make sense of his discomfort. His shadow feels the desire to
leave the town by escaping with the help of the narrator.

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Meanwhile, the
narrator of the Hard-boiled Wonderland finds himself on a quest to secure his
identity. But he realizes that his quest is pointless because it is impossible.

He finds out that a scientist altered his brain before becoming a calcutec and
it allows him to switch between two realms of consciousness. These two realms
are represented by the distinct settings. The walled town and setting of The End
of the World is actually the calcutec’s core consciousness, a programmed
alternative mental reality by the scientist whose experiment clearly had negative
consequences for his subjects. He quickly learns that his implants will soon
fuse, leaving him stranded at the end of the world.

The novel ends ambiguously
and leaves us with a frustration due to our expectations of closure. While the
calcutec lives its last few moments, the narrator of the End of the World has
found a possible escape route through a bottomless pool for him and his shadow.

But he is reluctant and chooses to continue his strange existence within the
town. He tells his shadow,


            “I have responsibilities,” I say. “I
cannot forsake the people and places and things I have created. I know I do you
a terrible wrong. And yes, perhaps I wrong myself, too. But I must see out the
consequences of my own doings. This is my world. The Wall is here to hold me
in, the river flows through me, the smoke is me burning. I must know why.” (399,


As readers, we are
left frustrated. We hope to find some sort of closure after learning awful
truth about the existence of the narrator’s identity.  But the ending is extremely ambiguous. The
worlds are not reunited in any way, in fact, both characters lose their fight
and quest to maintain their identities with respect to systems that care little
for the individual needs.

In order to analyze
the identity struggles that exist within the two alternating narratives, we
must look at the ways in which Murakami construction of the mind. In general,
the construction of the mind is presented as a uniformly coded division between
a world of light and world of dark. That of the dark is referring to the unconscious
realm of the mind. In the case of “Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the
World”, Murakami envisions the inner and unconscious world of the mind as dark,
lifeless, and cold. The protagonist in the Hard-boiled Wonderland lives in the
daylight which signifies that this narrator is of a conscious mind. Meanwhile,
the protagonist in the End of the World fears light, only works at night, and
wears protective glasses when he decides to expose himself to daylight. While
Murakami alludes to this unconscious mind through the setting and circumstances
of each narrator, he also refers to the subconscious mind as the “black box” in
the version of the novel translated by Alfred Birnbaum and originally published
by Kodansha America in 1991.

The expression is mentioned
at the same time that the narrator in Hard-boiled Wonderland learns about the
awful truth and destiny of his identity. The “scientist” that has been
tinkering with the calcutec’s electrical circuits in his brain describes the
core conscious by drawing the comparison to a black box used to record flight
data on an airplane.


“I said, ‘the black box is the
subconscious mind of the individual?'”


“That’s right. All people act
according to certain principles. No one is exactly like anyone else. In short,
it’s a matter of identity. What is identity? A unique system of thought based
on the collected memories of our experiences from the past. A simpler term for
it is the mind. No two people have the same mind. Of course, most people have
no real grasp of their own cognitive systems.” (Murakami (1991), Pg. 375)


this imperative point in the novel, we are provided with the central theme and
meaning of the narrative. And that is that there will always be an unconscious mind
which we are unable to open. And that itself is the true meaning of identity.

Like the “black box”, our subconscious mind contains all the information we
need to form our own individual identities but it is impermeable. We are unable
to control and observe our subconscious mind which emphasizes the existence of
a true self.  

readers, we question the intentions of Murakami and how he constructed the
destiny of the two narrators in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of The
World. Did he really have to die? If one wants to go on a quest for their identity
will they to end up dead? The answers are both no. The death of the calcutec
symbolizes an alternative to conforming or becoming part of a “system”. In
general, Murakami is pushing us as readers to take a look at the identity of an
individual and the “good judgement” they use to decide whether they should conform
to Japanese society or fall through the cracks.