Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4


In the summer of 1969 the student protests are decisively ended by the university, and when the next school year begins in September, Toru, returned from several weeks of solitary travel north of Tokyo, is astounded to find that the protestor students have folded neatly back into university life. At lunch one Monday he gets to know a classmate from his history of drama class, a spritely and quirky girl named Midori who shows interest in Toru. He lends her his notes for the class, but she doesn't show up at the Wednesday lecture to return it to him. The next Monday she does show up, and takes him to lunch and to her old school, outside of which they talk. On Sunday Midori invites Toru over to her home, a family bookshop, where she makes lunch for him and tells him about her painful family history; hearing the sounds of fire engines, the two go to a balcony, where they then drink beer while Midori sings with a guitar. At the end of this, they kiss.

The following day, Toru notices Midori's absence in their drama class, and then on Saturday night he goes out womanizing with Nagasawa, though to no success. As he sits in a coffee shop passing the little hours, two girls approach him and ask him to drink with them. One of them explains that she was devastated when a few days ago she caught her boyfriend in bed with another girl; Toru ends up sleeping with that girl in a hotel, and by the time he wakes she is gone. He calls Midori to no avail, and then returns to his dorm to find a letter from Naoko waiting for him.


Whether or not one wants to read Toru as a typically disaffected postmodern character, his attitudes towards the student protests tell us a great deal about his personality and view of the world. Set during one of the most politically turbulent times in modern Japanese history, the story might surprise readers with Toru's seemingly apolitical stance towards all that is going on around him. Without any expression of support or disdain for the protests when they begin, Toru simply gets a job and continues living; similarly, once the protests have been quashed he returns for classes thinking that all happened rather naturally and normally.

One might criticize Toru for his lack of participation in the important issues of his time and withdrawal into the world of novels, though as Toru frequently tells others, especially those who seem to find something unique in him, he considers himself a normal person without any particular direction in life; in fact, as happens so often, what Toru finds to be a commonplace observation is actually a very perceptive insight. In the case of the protests, this insight is that the state powers that control the schools are far too powerful to be overcome by student protesters, and spineless ones at that. It is remarkable that he shows such great disappointment and disdain for the protesters who returned to class in complete abandonment of their previous principles; even though Toru does not hold their political beliefs, he is committed, in his own nondescript way, to personal sincerity and honesty. As he tells Midori: "I like to think of myself as an honest man" (51). It is because of this that he undertakes the strange policy of not responding to attendance at the classes he attends diligently; having been offended by his peers, he simply removes himself from them, just as he removed himself from Kobe after the trauma of Kizuki's suicide.

It is impossible to conceive of Midori except in relationship to Naoko. Even though the two girls never meet and Toru mentions the existence of one to the other on few occasions, the spaces that each occupies in Toru's heart and the sheer difference between their beings cannot be ignored. While Naoko always impresses Toru as being delicate, mysterious, cold, dry, etc., Midori is the opposite in nearly every way; her name, which literally means "green" in Japanese, befits her exuberance, casualness, and freedom. From physical features, such as Naoko's long hair versus Midori's newly cut short hair, to dress, such as Naoko's coat versus Midori's mini dress, the two have a very different presences, both of which attract Toru in a way. Perhaps the most salient contrast between the two, especially from the perspective of the writing itself, is their way of speaking: Naoko is constantly reaching for something through her words which she can never seem to reach, whereas Midori gushes wit and feeling, whether chatting with Toru or singing for him.

That said, both are painfully incomplete women who suffered family tragedies and struggle to find love; as Midori tells Toru: "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 it any more. Just once" (76). The parallel to the one night when Toru makes love with Naoko, the only night that Naoko ever is able to experience sex before she ends her life, is unavoidable. In fact, Toru, with his constant questioning of life and feeling of emptiness within himself (opened up by Kizuki's death) puts him in a very similar mold as the Naoko and Midori. There is the sense of a matched structure between the characters: we know at the end of the story that Toru will, or at least tries to, be together with Midori, whereas Naoko was never separated from Kizuki. One could conceive of this structure playing out very naturally and painlessly if Kizuki had not killed himself, but the absence that he created disrupted relations and made Naoko and Toru move around in search to return to the now lost world of moving back and forth between seventeen and eighteen, as Naoko put it.

Another notable feature of Midori's is the significant place of death in her life. This of course begins with the death of her mother and appears at the time of the story as her dying father. One might read off a morbid comment that Midori makes early on in her first conversation with Toru as due to some harmless quirk of her personality—"I had a perm this summer, and it was just awful. I was ready to kill myself…So I figured as long as I was ready to die, I might as well cut if all off"—(50) but during her intimate conversation with Toru on the balcony of her home, she says regarding the long, terrible deaths of her mother and relatives: "That's the kind of death that frightens me. The shadow of death slowly, slowly eats away at the region of life, and before you know it everything's dark and you can't see, and the people around you think of you as more dead than alive. I hate that. I couldn't stand it" (77). Thinking to Naoko again, one should recognize that she shares this fear of Midori's and also tries to battle against seeming inevitability. Moreover, despite her garrulousness, Midori senses that she is poorly understood by most other people, especially in matters of love, a sentiment that Naoko shares.

When Toru tells Midori “I’ve never met a girl who thinks like you,” she responds, "A lot of people tell me that… But it's the only way I know how to think. Seriously. I'm just telling you what I believe. It's never crossed my mind that my way of thinking is different from other people's. I'm not trying to be different. But when I speak out honestly, everybody thinks I'm kidding or playacting. When that happens, I feel like everything's such a pain!" (77.) Aside from the more frank and intense way of speaking, this is something that we could just as easily ascribe to Toru, who after all insists to Midori (who finds his way of speaking curious) that he is just an ordinary person. In a way, even if the two are in some essential way ordinary people—this seems to be a point that Murakami often makes about his apparently bizarre characters—they are unique in their simple, wholehearted adherence to a principle of honesty.