Norwegian Wood

Norwegian Wood Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Should we take Toru at his word and consider him an "ordinary" guy?

    Although Toru, whether introspecting or talking with others, frequently describes himself as a very ordinary person without any special ambitions or peculiar characteristics, one gets the sense that he is always in the middle of things—not simply because he is the main character and narrator, but from a propensity he has to fit in and make people comfortable. It might be helpful to think of him in contrast to other characters such as Nagasawa: though Nagasawa perhaps shares a self-centered personality with Toru, he lacks any of the capacity for feeling pain that Toru has. Also, since Toru usually finds it difficult to realize what is unique about himself, characters like Midori who comment on his personality explicate much of what remains unsaid. For example, he does not force things on anyone else, unlike what most people in the world do.

  2. 2

    Why does the elder Toru decide to write the story of his younger life?

    The impetus to write for Toru is inseparable from the impetus to remember. He writes in the first chapter: "Clutching all these faded, fading, imperfect memories to my breast, I go on writing this book with all the desperate intensity of a starving man sucking on bones. This is the only way I know to keep my promise to Naoko"—that is, his promise to always remember her (10). However, this promise is filled with paradoxes that he did not understand at the time: as a living, growing person, Toru is naturally unable to remember all things as time sweeps them farther back in his mind, and Naoko's request is somehow already aware of this fact. Just as when Naoko could only have sex with Toru when her usually unusually clear eyes became clouded, so is Toru only able to understand and write after his memories have lost their painful clarity. In that sense it is also a process of coming to understanding for him and of dealing with his past pain.

  3. 3

    What is the significance Toru's habit of ironing his laundry on Sundays?

    Toru tells Midori's sick father that he does his laundry and irons every Sunday, which, as he explained to Naoko, is the day he "unwinds his spring." He explains: "I don't mind ironing at all. There's a special satisfaction in making wrinkled things smooth. And I'm pretty good at it, too"; although he also says that he has missed a good day for laundry due to coming to the hospital with Midori, one might think that he is still doing his job of "making wrinkled things smooth" and in fact doing it quite well by making Midori's father feel more alive and thereby also raising Midori's feelings (189). Though it is something that Toru usually only mentions tangentially, it represents the essence of his personality: a desire to help other people feel comfortable with themselves, somewhat like how Ami Hostel is supposed to help patients "adapt to their deformities."

  4. 4

    Naoko describes Kizuki as "weak," and Toru resolves to become "strong." What do these terms mean, and do you agree with the characterizations of the characters?

    By Toru's recollection, he and Naoko were Kizuki's only friends, and though the three formed a very intimate group (especially thanks to Toru's mediating influence between the two lovers), there were certain tensions that could not be resolved in the end. As Naoko explains to Toru, she and Kizuki very much wanted to have sex with each other, but for some reason Naoko was never physically able to do this. One way to interpret the qualities of weakness and strength is how much a person is able to wait for anything that they love; while they were all on the cusp of adulthood, Kizuki perhaps could not bear maturing and losing the utopian existence he had with Naoko, whereas Toru is much more willing to bear the pain and continue moving forward in the process of maturing.

  5. 5

    What does the opening scene of Toru landing at Hamburg Airport tell us about his life after the events of the novel? Since this scene is situated at the beginning of the novel, is it relevant to how we read the rest of the novel? If so, how?

    One significant detail that could easily have been missed appears out of nowhere in the middle of the story: when before Toru leaves Hatsumi the night after his dinner with her and Nagasawa, the narrator Toru suddenly changes the perspective to mention that, several years later, he finally came to understand the special feeling he got from Hatsumi while interviewing a painter. This implies that he became a journalist or some other kind of writer. Thus, he has probably been integrated into society and is on some kind of work-related trip flying to Germany. In that opening scene he is located in a specific place, Hamburg Airport, but he is painfully alone, a situation which allows memories of Naoko to arise easily. Does this mean that his call to Midori at the end of the novel ultimately failed, or did he end up marrying Midori and starting a family? It seems as though he has truly matured, as he began to towards the end of the novel, but at the same time he cannot escape his pain.