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Haruki Murakami is the Japanese author of "A Seventh Man." His writing is easily readable, but complex. "A Seventh Man" is found in the collection of stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, published in 2006.
The story begins with a meeting where each person is to speak. The main character in the story is the last to talk: the Seventh Man. The Man describes a horrific occurrence when he was ten years old: a typhoon in his town followed by an apparent tsunami. The man relates that after the typhoon struck, the town found itself in the eye of the storm. The boy was allowed to go outside to survey the damage but not go far. But, he wants to see beyond his yard; so along with his best friend K, they go down to the beach to see the wreckage. While there, the boy realizes that something is happening in the water. Although he tries to notify his friend K, the boy, in absolute terror, runs to the breakwater leaving K behind. When the wave hits, it engulfs his friend. The wave recedes. Within seconds, it returns larger and more fierce; this time seizing the boy. In his fight to survive at the crest of the wave, the boy sees his friend K or a vision of him, grotesquely smiling and laughing at him. Miraculously after nearly a year of suffering from his injuries, physically the boy survives. However, he is haunted in his dreams and thoughts by the guilt of his friend's death. Forty years pass, and the man never marries nor finds happiness. After his parents' deaths, he returns to his hometown. Finding some drawings left by his friend K, he feels drawn back to the shore. There he realizes his foolishness in not facing his fears. Returning to the present, the Seventh Man proclaims that the saddest thing for a human being is to live in fear and alienation from others.
The story revolves around three characters. The Seventh Man, whose trauma has made him unable to go near to water in over forty years, relates the occurrence which affected his entire life. The young boy, the Seventh Man at the age of ten, is typical, yet sensitive to his friend K's struggles. Neither character is given a name probably in the vein of representing every person who has been frozen due to fear and guilt. The last character K is a delicate, disabled young boy, who has a great artistic talent.
In his portrayal of the Seventh Man, Murakami's emotional territory is familiar: chaos, and confusion. Sudden epiphanies--sometimes brought to life by a surreal event--allow the character to find resolution. The Seventh Man is not swallowed by the wave but by his guilt for the death of his friend. His visions of the boy in the water and his dreams torment him throughout his life. Through facing his fears, he realizes that he has only been afraid of a ghost; but he lost his entire life to it.
One aspect of Murakami's writing is his descriptive comparisons. He enables the reader to see and feel the waves and even the eye of the storm. "A few gray cotton chunks of cloud hung there, motionless." His lack of details about the setting give the quality of an "every man" tale. This exquisite story in its apparent simplicity engages the reader in a psychological tale of unresolved remorse.
The beauty of Haruki Murakami stories is that there are generally several ways to interpret them.
My favorite way of looking at this story is by analyzing one of its primary themes: the idea of redemption.
"Redemption" is a spiritual word. It's the purpose of Christianity and I will approach this story from that perspective. While it's true that this is a Japanese writer and Christianity is not the primary religion in that country, Murakami's writing has no borders and follows no cultural norms. The Christian ideas of baptism and resurrection are everywhere in this story.
WARNING: This does NOT mean that "The Seventh Man" is a religious story. It uses religious imagery to connect with the audience.
One of the first obvious religious allusion is the statement that after the storm and the disappearance of K, the narrator says, like Christ, he was asleep for "three days." However, when he comes back to life, he is not coming back as the savior. Instead, Murakami uses this allusion to Christ ironically. The Seventh Man loses himself and suffers throughout life.
The ending of the story is also full of religious allusions and imagery. The first image occurs when the narrator returns to the town and walks into the ocean and stands in the water with the waves "washing my feet." Again, this image relates directly to the Roman Catholic washing of the feet ceremony--other Christian sects practice this ceremony as well. This ceremony takes place during Lent, the religious celebration in which Christians prepared to be redeemed by a resurrected Christ.
Finally, immediately after his feet are washed, he loses his balance and "fell into the waves" lying there "face in the water, unable to stand." This suggests baptism, or rebirth, which The Seventh Man says he experiences immediately after being submerged: "There was no longer anything for me to fear. Those days were gone."
As I stated earlier, it's really important to not think of "The Seventh Man" as a religious story. It might be better to think of the idea of Christ and the ideas behind Christianity as literature, as ways to explain human emotions and desires. Murakami uses these ideas to allow the reader to understand the overwhelming desire for humans to be reborn and to be redeemed for their past mistakes and regrets.
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