“I’m enclosing a photo. A picture of sheep. I’d like you to put it somewhere, I don’t care where, but someplace people can see it. I realize I’m making this request out of the blue, but I’ve got no one else I can ask. I’ll let you have every last ounce of my sex appeal if you do me this favor. I can’t tell you the reason why, though. This photo is important to me. Sometime, at some later date, I’ll explain everything to you.” (p. 97)
This is the request which Rat makes of his old friend, our nameless narrator, in a letter. How bizarre, then, that a hundred or so pages later we find this request made to him from an austere man dressed in black:
“You do not have to speak if you do not want to,” said the man. “Instead, I will send you out in search of the sheep. These are our final terms. If within two months from now you succeed in finding the sheep, we are prepared to reward you however you would care to request. But if you should fail to find it, it will be the end of you and your company. Agreed?”
“Do I have any choice?” I asked. “And what if no such sheep with a star on its back ever existed in the first place?”
“It is still the same. For you and for me, there is only whether you find the sheep or not. There are no in-betweens.” (p. 146)
What can it mean, finding a sheep with a star on its back which may, or may not, exist? With Murakami, one never knows for certain. Perhaps there is such a sheep, perhaps not; the importance, I believe, lies in part with the quest.
“The hotel owner accepted the luggage graciously. I settled the bill up through the following day and told him we’d be back in a week or two.
‘Was my father of any help?’ he asked worriedly.
I said that he’d helped enormously.
‘I sometimes wish I could go off in search of something he declared, “but before getting even that far, I myself wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to search for. Now my father, he’s someone who’s been searching for something all his life. He’s still searching today. Ever since I was a little boy, my father’s told me about the white sheep that came to him in his dreams. So I always thought that’s what life is like. An ongoing search.’ (p.229)
So, what does this sheep represent? A singular sheep with a star on its back…I’m still struggling with that. I feel it could be something like a quest, as I said before, but it must be more than that. It’s the title of the book, for goodness sake, and a key element for so many characters. I’m wondering if the sheep could stand for weakness in us, because it is only when the sheep is asleep inside the characters that they are able to be free. Could it be guilt? Fear? Hatred? Anything that is our own particular point of failure? I suspect so.
“The key point here is weakness,” said the Rat. “Everything begins from there. Can you understand what I’m getting at?”
“People are weak.”
“As a general rule,” said the Rat, snapping his fingers a couple of times. “But line up all the generalities you like and you still won’t get anywhere. What I’m talking about now is a very individual thing. Weakness is something that rots in the body. Like gangrene. I’ve felt that ever since I was a teenager. That’s why I was always on edge. There’s this something inside you that’s rotting away and you feel it all along. Can you understand what that’s like?”
I sat silent, wrapped up in the blanket.
“Probably not,” the Rat continued. “There isn’t that side to you. But, well, anyway, that’s weakness. It’s the same as a hereditary disease, weakness. No matter how much you understand it, there’s nothing you can do to cure yourself. It’s not going to go away with a clap of the hand. It just keeps getting worse and worse.” (p. 333)
The conclusion of A Wild Sheep Chase was shocking and distressing to me. Nevertheless, I love it because as usual, Murakami brings up the essential through the oblique. We puzzle through, as readers, wondering exactly what he’s getting at, all the while enjoying the Story.
This is my fifth Murakami novel, and I’m finding the following traits consistent in each:
- missing wives/women
- brutal honesty rather than pretension
- seemingly apathetic heroes
- a quest
It is my quest to read all of his works, and then probably at some point in my life read them all over again. (I’ve already read Kafka on the Shore twice, and found it immeasurable enriching the second time around.) He is one of the few authors who always has something new to say to me, each time I open one of his books. This one in particular was read for Tanabata’s read-along, as a precursor to Dance Dance Dance which will be discussed March 29th. I hope to see you there.