A Wild Sheep Chase

by Haruki Murakami
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In A Wild Sheep Chase, the sheep professor remarks "I began reading on ethnological studies and folklore related to sheep," and the narrator in the next chapter begins reading An Authoritative History of Junitaki Township where a story of the settlement of an Ainu man is related. Consider what the novel has to tell us about the experience of unsettledness as well as settlement. Draw a connection between this "story within a story" with the narrator’s character development and the novel’s wider implications about the individual and society.

The use of the "story within a story" device in Murakami's novel functions on several levels. Murakami's work is usually classified as postmodern, and it is characteristic of such novels to be self-aware, to offer a proliferation of narratives, and to question or interrogate such narratives. This can have an unsettling effect on the reader and, in a way, the novel can be considered a mystery without a real solution.

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Haruki Murakami delivers numerous stories, like Russian nesting dolls, in his novel A Wild Sheep Chase. Murakami offers up a clue to the unconventional narrative structure and the way stories circle around each other in the title, a play on the cliched phrase "a wild goose chase." That there is an actual sheep that people are trying to find is a typical Murakami touch, both bland and unsettling.

I would argue that the novel is far more unsettled (or alienating) than settled, both for the characters and for the reader. Certainly Murakami as a postmodern writer should be taken into consideration, as part of the postmodern project is adding stories to stories (see Borges), as well as avoiding a clear meaning for the reader. Given postmodernism's avoidance of easy answers, the sheep story and the township story may have no greater meaning beyond the text. The power of the novel is that it raises far more questions, about both life and literature, than it answers. If you believe that this is Murakami's intention, then there may be no wider implications for the individual and society. Maybe his point is that we are all trapped in unsolvable mysteries and stories that are like mazes with no exit.

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