Town of cats and existential void

Sheikh Tasmima Mrenmoi | Published: 21:15, May 06,2020


Haruki Murakami’s ‘Town of Cats’ is an excerpt from 1Q84 (2009) which is a tale of social isolation and how a father and his son share a similar feeling. Sheikh Tasmima Mrenmoi reviews the story and talks about how they both lack sense of belongingness

Town of Cats is written by Haruka Murakami which is an excerpt from his novel 1Q84 (2009) and it falls under the genre of social alienation. Murakami is a surrealistic writer, he deals with fantasy and myth, in a way as if everyone is lost in this world, but wants to be found and seen.

While reading ‘Town of Cats’, the readers will feel like they are one of the characters and are taking the journey with Tengo.

Tengo is a young man, in the story, who seems to not have a proper relationship with his father. This is due to how his father treated him in the childhood. Tengo never had a proper childhood like other children. He was a smart boy but was hardly appreciated by his father. When Tengo was one and a half years old he saw a man sucking his mother's nipples but he knew this was not his father. His father according to him was uglier and that man was handsome. The memory is years old, yet Tengo seems to have some hazy details of it. Therefore, Tengo is in constant doubt about which is the truth and which is the lie.

When he was reading a German story titled town of cats, he kind of connected himself with the journey. It is also something we try; we try to connect our lives with the novel or poetry that we read. While he’s reading town of cats, he started to make connections with that.

In a way, we are lost in this world and we want to be found and recognised, specially, by the people who surround us. Tengo too, wanted to be found and he wanted to be seen by his father. Tengo, therefore could connect with the town of cats where he reads the structure and the character takes a strange journey that has no destination. This is what Tengo does at the very beginning and the characters inside the story has no identity in front of the cats. That is exactly what happens with Tengo, when his father says ‘you’re nothing, you’re nothing’.

Tengo, like the character in the story, was roaming around purposelessly. In search of his quest for knowledge and for his identity. There is a social detachment in Tengo’s life, which is not only between Tengo and his father, he does not even know if his mother is alive or not.

Tengo’s father is a very stubborn character, he wants to deny the identity his son deserved. This is proof about how lonely and isolated he is amongst himself. His entire identity is shaped by his job; it gives him a purpose in life. If you have somewhat understanding of Japanese culture, how they look at a particular profession, you surely would not consider Kawana being the negative character who treated his son unjustly. The Japanese are very hard workers. They work to a level where they become extremely workaholic.

This probably made Kawana as he is today. Even at the end, when he at first did not recognise his son and said ‘Getting this job, the greatest stroke’. It feels like he is discarding his son, the only thing that matters to him. At the end he was crying because he finally had a special moment with his son. It was about his son; it was about Tengo. It was not about the wife, because there were no photos, no memory.

Although, there is an identity crisis in both Kawana and Tengo. They were both isolated but shared existence where the personal spaces collided with their own territories. At the end Kawana does not become responsible but Tengo does. But both of them are very stubborn, they both have no clue where they are headed, demanding their own territory. Both of them at the end, shared their untold love towards each other.

Tengo was never seen by his father, as who is. Tengo is unsure about his destination or where he truly belongs. He has a strong sense of ‘not belonging’. He thought perhaps he belonged somewhere else for when Murakami mentioned, ‘The one possible solution that Tengo was able to decipher from his readings was this one: My real father must be somewhere else’ gives evidence about his unassertive character.

Throughout the story, Tengo tries to find his own identity. When he went to the teacher complaining, he took responsibility for himself. From a young age he is trying to develop his own identity. Tengo at that moment achieved something on his own. Freedom and independence. However, freedom and independence is not something that he desires. He desires to stay with his father and discover the meaning of life.

He does not have an aim in life, he is suffering from existential crisis, he is disconnected from his roots. He is trying to find some purpose in life and looking for a place to go. Metaphorically, he has no idea, from where we all have come and where we’re supposed to go to. The relationship between him and his father has no emotional bond, it is like they share a mechanical existence. Tengo is trying to be the responsible parent, criticising his father and giving comments. Treating his father like a child. The role has been flipped. Both of them are suffering from a sense of feeling nothing, isolated and lost.

The story focuses on the importance of being ‘nothing’. Eventually a vacuum has been formed and this vacuum was left by Kawana. Throughout his life, he has been a lousy father. Tengo was not his real son. Tengo reminded him of his mother, and of his mother’s infidelity. This was a role that was not meant for him but by filling the vacuum he actually shaped the life of his son. Hence you also have this idea that both of them are nothing.

Although, Tengo finally realises that his father is the only person who could see him in that empty town. Because no one else shared his existence. It is a story about Tengo’s existence that is a connecting link to Kawana.

Therefore, the genre of the short story, social alienation which describes the individual’s feeling of being disconnected from the values and norms of the society.

Sheikh Tasmima Mrenmoi is a student of the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh

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