The titular sheep in Haruki Murakami’s novel can be understood to represent a central idea, or conceit, as well as specific themes and people. The quest of the protagonist, J, in following the sheep includes his efforts to understand its functions. Because the sheep is constantly shifting, J’s thwarted efforts show how the sheep stands for an unattainable goal. J’s name can also be likened to those of “K” and “Joseph K,” the protagonists in Franz Kafka’s novels The Castle and The Trial respectively. Murakami’s fiction is strongly influenced by Kafka’s works. J resembles K, who seeks but never gains entry to the castle; J’s unfulfilled quest is likewise a statement about the absurdity of modern life and the individual’s inability to understand the world around them.
Because the sheep is a grown lamb, which is a symbol of Jesus Christ, Murakami’s novel can also be interpreted as a Christian allegory, similar to A Pilgrim’s Progress. The prominent symbol of the star also strengthens the Christian analogy, as it can represent the Star of Bethlehem. The sheep leads J on a chase, but the inability to comprehend its meaning is not the fault of the sheep. J’s search is thus for belief or faith, not for rational knowledge; the sheep stands not only for Christ but for a kind of unswerving faith that is no longer possible.