Stranger in a Strange Land: The Struggle for Cultural and Personal Identity in Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Laura Smith, Colby College

Document Type Honors Thesis (Open Access)


In the last moments of the End of the World story, the narrator realizes that he cannot be completely free either in the manipulated section of his own mind, which nevertheless holds the key to his own identity, or in the System's Tokyo. Rather than living in a world where society's plurality of interpretations, identities, and memories are forbidden, the narrator chooses instead to live within the Town of his own creation, where the possibility of that access that plurality exists. As a stranger within his own foreign memories, the narrator would be able to truly know himself. Without that interior knowledge, the narrator cannot fully comprehend how the System operates in the culture at large. Once he is consciously aware of his own hidden memories, the narrator theorizes that he will be able to attain a cultural understanding of the System's mechanisms of control: '"A little by little, I will recall things. 'People and places from our former world ... And as I remember, I may find the key to my own creation'" (Murakami 399). However, without his Shadow, which, having been excluded, cannot exist in the End of the World, the narrator must struggle in his own hidden memories to reclaim everything about his identity which would have made him different from the other citizens of the Town. Only the comparative accessibility of those memories in the End of the World makes it worthwhile for the narrator to remain there, whereas in Tokyo accessing them would have been impossible. In this way, the narrator is forced into a very necessary position of being a stranger to himself in order to learn the utmost about himself. It is this same position which the narrator would have had to adopt in Tokyo in order to truly know the society he was living in, rather than knowing and embodying only the "official" version of culture. Thus, the quest to access the real record of a society's identity, including the plurality of its history and its citizens, is not a process with a clear beginning an end, but a struggle fraught with paradoxes and personal crucibles.