Existentialism is a 20th century philosophy and school of literature that holds that life is meaningless and chaotic, and any abstract theories about it are useless. All that exists is the world of phenomena as perceived by our senses. Whatever metaphysical concept that lies behind this world is not only impossible to know and understand, but also holds no significant value. The only choice we have to make in life is to accept this world with a kind of determined joy, to discipline ourselves, and to defy the emptiness and the chaos by finding our own meaning in life (“Friedrich Nietzsche Part 4”). Although Haruki Murakami does not directly express any existential views in What I Talk about When I Talk about Running and Norwegian Wood, he is a quintessential existential writer because so much of existentialism involves the working out of private dilemmas. There is much focus on introversion in existentialism, and it can be seen in the lives of Murakami’s characters.
In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami was facing the dilemma of participating in a 62-mile ultramarathon that took place every June at Lake Saroma in Hokkaido, Japan (104). According to Murakami, “The runners run around the shores of Lake Saroma, which faces the Sea of Okhotsk. Only once you actually run the course do you realize how ridiculously huge Lake Saroma is” (105). The weather gradually changed from being freezing to being too warm for heavy clothes during the ultramarathon (105). While Murakami was running, he began feeling intense pain in different parts of his body (109). Even so, he felt very happy upon reaching the finish line, not so much pride as a sense of completion (115). Through running, Murakami finds his own meaning in life; to be a runner as well as a writer. This is reminiscent of the existential belief that we find our own purposes in life.
Naoko was originally the girlfriend of Toru’s best friend, Kizuki, but after he committed suicide, Naoko started to get involved with Toru (26). One night, Toru and Naoko decided to consummate their love, but when Toru asked why she had never slept with Kizuki, Naoko started crying (40). Naoko decided to take a leave of absence from school and move into a sanatorium in the hills outside Kyoto (44). During one of Toru’s visits to the Sanatorium, Naoko spoke of her older sister, who had committed suicide when Naoko was little (143). According to Naoko herself, “Nobody knew why she killed herself. The same with Kizuki. Exactly the same. She was seventeen, too, and she never gave the slightest hint she was going to commit suicide. She didn’t leave a note either.” (144). The suicides of Kizuki, as well as her older sister, had a deep impact on Naoko’s well-being. Eventually, Naoko decided to take her own life so she could be with Kizuki in death (276). Unable to find her own reason to live, Naoko decided that her life just was not worth living.
According to the Danish philosopher,...