A Wild Sheep Chase

by Haruki Murakami

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In chapter 29 of A Wild Sheep Chase, the unnamed narrator reads the Authoritative History of Junitaki Township in which a story of the settlement of an Ainu man is related. How does this indigenous person represent a character foil? Does this story within the story allow Murakami to say more about the people of his novel in terms of how they share history or represent different aspects of society?

In A Wild Sheep Chase, the Ainu man serves as a foil to the unnamed narrator through his role as a guide for strangers who misrepresent their intentions. Similarly, the narrator embarks on a mission to aid the Boss, who withholds his goals from the narrator. Unlike the narrator, the Ainu man finds a degree of satisfaction as he learns to care for the sheep. The author may be implying the superiority of earlier rural lifeways to hectic modern society.

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The novel’s unnamed narrator embarks on a quest to fulfill the needs of the Boss, although he is never fully certain exactly who the Boss is or what his goals are. While this sparse information presents a number of obstacles for the narrator, he perseveres with the mission. As he encounters the story of the colonization of Junitaki, he learns some details of the life of the Ainu man (also unnamed) who played a pivotal role in the township’s establishment. This indigenous man serves as a foil to the protagonist through the parallels in their quests. While the Ainu man believed he was fulfilling a certain requirement that the dirt farmers had expressed, he soon finds that they are deceiving him.

Murakami’s intentions for including this story may be analyzed in terms of the contrast between past and present and between tradition and modernity. The Ainu man, despite being misled by the men he tries to help, ends up a winner in certain regards. He finds his sheep, in the literal sense of becoming a farmer who raises sheep. In the metaphorical sense, he finds his identity.

The author may be implying that in the past, the search for identity was more likely to yield positive results than in the present. The narrator remains frustrated in his search for sheep, continuing to be uncertain of the reasons for pursuing them at all. However, the reader may also identify a critique of colonialism within this account, as the Ainu man becomes alienated from his people’s way of life as he takes up his new vocation.

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