In Haruki Murakami's 'Norwegian Wood,' I Met The Manic, Magic Character That Made Me Who I Am Today

Today's modern, American young adult is constantly looking for their key to liberation—which is to say, the figure or epiphany that frees them from anything and everything that prevents them from being their whole self. In author Haruki Murakami's 1987 classic, Norwegian Wood , an inspiring figure, who is liberating and then some, is neither the main character Toru, nor his love Naoko, but rather the unpredictable, and quirky (for lack of a better word) Midori Kobayashi. She is what so many young people need.

To many, Midori would be seen as crazy and unreliable, but really she's just a human without the defense mechanisms and society encouraged lies that we use to avoid confrontation. I wanted to introduce her to people so that she may have the same empowering impact that she had on me. I loved her imperfection and wondered why then I could not love my own.

I wanted to introduce her to people so that she may have the same empowering impact that she had on me.

Murakami crafts Midori very carefully, allowing her, rather than the narrative, to reveal her imperfections, struggles, and skeletons. What little that readers can deduce about her when she’s introduced is that she’s a student at Toru’s university and that her family owns a bookstore.

What is shown about Midori, first, is that she is shamelessly herself. Many of her attitudes and ideologies would be seen as radical now, which would make her actions in the context of a book set in late 1960s Japan, released to the world in the late 1980s, even bolder.

She is very intrigued by sex and intimacy, and is not shy in admitting this. Just a few examples of her proud shamelessness include, asking Toru to think about her when he masturbates, quizzing Toru on the specific things that sexually excite him, and making Toru promise to take her to an S&M porno film (which he later does).

To some, shamelessness is nothing but a lack of concern or respect. In truth, however, shamelessness can be power in that it takes credence from the judgments of others and society.

Whether in Murakami’s 1960s novel, the grungy '90s, or today, people have always struggled with how open to be in regards to their feelings. How much is too much, we ask. We assume that there’s such a thing as too honest as if there is something wrong with feeling stuff and sharing that stuff.

To some, shamelessness is nothing but a lack of concern or respect. In truth, however, shamelessness can be power in that it takes credence from the judgments of others and society.

Midori displays little concern for the social norms that dictate how much or little we share. The narrative never follows Midori directly—she’s always seen through the eyes of Toru—but it is clear in her time with Toru that she is lonely and is very comfortable with him. She cares about him a lot. In one of their outings, she makes it her mission to spend the night with him, purposely dragging out their time together. She refuses to accept no as an answer. She’ll do anything not to spend another night alone. When Toru shoots her down she lets out all her feelings in an extraordinary showing of the human condition when it comes to love and disappointment.

“But I’m so lonely. I want to be with someone! I know I’m doing terrible things to you, making demands and not giving you anything in return, saying whatever pops into my head, dragging you out of your room and forcing you to take me everywhere, but you’re the only one I can do stuff like that to! I have never been able to have my own way with anybody, not once in the twenty years I’ve been alive. My father, my mother, they never paid the slightest attention to me, and my boyfriend, well, he’s just not that kind of guy. He gets mad if I try to have my own way. So we end up fighting. You’re the only one I can say these things to. And now I’m really really really tired and I want to fall asleep listening to someone tell me how much they like me and how pretty I am and stuff. That’s all I want. And when I wake up, I’ll be full of energy and I’ll never bother you with all these selfish demands again, I swear. I’ll be a good girl.”

Without context, Midori’s monologue might read as dramatic or insane (or both). However, what makes this powerful is how honest Midori is. How many of us have ever wanted something or someone so desperately that we felt like our whole world would fall apart if we didn't get it? How many of us have felt like nothing else in our lives mattered but that one thing that we wanted?

We don’t know for sure if Midori’s parents really were awful to her, or if her boyfriend is a bad guy. That’s neither here nor there. What matters is that she feels something and she summons the strength to lay it all bare, ultimately not knowing how Toru will react. That takes courage—to look at the one thing you want, show your whole self to it, and risk losing it entirely.

Throughout the novel, she demonstrates this uncanny ability to find words for feelings and experiences that so often feel individual, as if we could perhaps be the only person on the planet who feels something this specific. She talks about her relationship with her parents, when Toru asks her, “Do you think you weren’t loved enough?”

“Somewhere between ‘not enough’ and ‘not at all.’ I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it—to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once. But they never gave that to me. Never, not once. If I tried to cuddle up and beg for something, they’d just shove me away and yell at me. ‘No! That costs too much!’ It’s all I ever heard. So I made up my mind I was going to find someone who would love me unconditionally three hundred and sixty-five days a year. I was still in elementary school at the time—fifth or sixth grade—but I made up my mind once and for all.”

What's clear about Midori is that she is unlike most people in that she doesn't hide from the world. I spent a great deal of my life full of shame for feeling or wanting so powerfully, that somehow I was greedy or unstable. She allowed me to embrace every part of me and to think of it as a revolutionary act as opposed to an egotistical one. She is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest characters of all-time.