How does the setting of Murakami's "Another Way to Die" lead to contradictions and confusions in the minds of the men?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting and difficult question. The overall setting is World War II Manchuria shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima. The action is set at a zoo where the hero is the veterinarian and at the clearing in the wilderness section of the zoo. There are animals populating the wilderness, especially birds, cicadas, and giant grasshoppers. Murakami doesn’t provide significant comment on what is in “the men’s minds,” though he does reveal things like the lieutenant questions his superiors’ orders and the veterinarian turns numb from shock so that “His hand did not tremble, but it seemed to have lost all feeling, as if he were wearing thick gloves.”

One possible contradiction in the veterinarian’s mind created by the setting is this: the veterinarian saves animals lives, yet, here he is, commissioned to officiate at the ending of men's lives in a setting that is teeming with vigorous, energetic life: “An especially large grasshopper flew over them like a bird and disappeared into a distant clump of grass.” This ties in with the veterinarian's thematic complaint against fate, since he always believes the decisions and events in his life are not made by his free will:

From his youngest days, he had had a weirdly lucid awareness that "I, as an individual, am living under the control of some outside force." Most of the time, the power of fate played on like a quiet and monotonous ground bass, coloring only the edges of his life. ....

One possible confusion in the soldier’s minds caused by the setting is a bit more complicated. On the surface, the confusion would be due to the same wilderness elements as above: the collision of death against wilderness teeming with life. Under the surface, the background setting, created by the allusion to the childhood game and competitive sport of baseball, adds confusion as a bat is used for an action diametrically opposed to games and sport. The mental confusion thus produced is manifest in the batter, who stands with mouth agape listening to “the windup bird” whose song reveals visions of the futures of the participants in the gruesome act of war. The audible song producing visionary images is a metaphor for the mental confusion thus created by the illusionary setting resulting from the allusion to baseball.

As he listened to the winding of the spring, the young soldier saw one fragmentary image after another rise up before him and fade away. ...