Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

06 May 2011

(Short Story) Ice Man by Haruki Murakami

(Reaction) Melting the Ice by: Francis Gabriel Concepcion

In this story by Haruki Murakami, we are introduced to a young girl who falls in love, and eventually marries what the story calls an ice man./ Like most of his other writings, Murakami fills this particular short story with lots of surrealist imagery that at first glance the plot simply looks to be absurd. However after reading it over and over, all the while asking important questions, some themes begin to emerge from the Murakami's writing.

For starters, who (or what) is this ice man? Look that's an ice man/ the narrator's friend whispers the minute their eyes catch a glimpse of the man sitting at the chair furthest from the fireplace. This first description of the ice man initially leads us to believe that what the two girls were looking at was literally a man made of ice. However in the paragraph that follows that statement we find: At the time, though, I had absolutely no idea what an ice man was. My friend didn't, either. 'He must be made of ice. That's why they call him an ice man.' This statement suggests their ignorance of what an ice man is.

For the next few days, we find the narrator spotting the ice man ...in the same place again, reading a book in exactly the same way... directing the same gaze onto the pages of the same book. Again, in an exaggerated (or surrealist) fashion, this is made to tell us more and more about the character of the ice man. For one thing: that it seems as though he is stuck in time.

Later on, the story concludes later on that the ice man is not literally made of ice:

...an ice man isn't really made of ice. He isn't going to melt, no matter how warm it gets. He's called an ice man because his body is as cold as ice, but what he's made of is different from ice, and it's not the kind of cold that takes away other people's heat.

These statements point out certain physical characteristics about the ice man. However, are we simply to understand these descriptions are just physical descriptions? First off, we have to understand that these statements are the thoughts of the narrator, meaning that we only see the story unfold through her eyes, through her understanding of the world. Therefore, however simple or straight-forward her description of the ice man may be, there will always be layers behind what she sees and perceives. And through what we can gather about the ice man through our narrator's consciousness, we can already see certain behavioral patterns that are similar with how ordinary humans behave.

These patterns, though extreme or surreally depicted, still express certain human psyche and behaviors. This becomes even clearer when the ice man reveals a little about himself:

I can't take any interest in the future at all. More precisely, I have no conception of a future. That's because ice has no future. All it has is the past enclosed within it. Ice is able to preserve things that way very cleanly and distinctly and as vividly as though they were still alive. That's the essence of ice.

The ice man, we can therefore conclude, is a figure that is trapped in the past. If we were to replace ice with past it might become clearer. The ice man, then, is also concerned with the preservation of the past ...as vividly as though they were still alive. Here we find that the ice man is not merely reflecting or dwelling on the past, but is actually constantly reliving the past (whether physically, or merely in his mind, it is not said).

However, it still isn't that simple, because we find out later on that the ice man himself has no personal future: I know the past of everything else. But I myself have no past. He apparently has no idea when he was born, who his parents are or if he even had any parents. This only makes the ice man even more strange and mysterious. However, this also suggests that at this point we cannot truly focus on what the ice man is, but instead, try to understand what he is doing to the narrator, or the girl. So whether the ice man is a real and physical person, or simply a metaphor that the narrator uses to describe her predicament, it is difficult to tell. And perhaps that's not the point of the story.

One thing we notice is how she describes their love for each other before they were married: The ice man loved me just as I was in the present, without any future. In turn, I loved the ice man just as he was in the present, without any past. This statement reveals a lot about the girl, particularly how she doesn't seem to envision a future for herself. One could say that like the ice man, she also has not taken any particular interest in the future.

In fact, through the course of their marriage, the girl slowly gets used to being around the ice man so much that we begin to see her change.

When the ice man made love to me, I saw in my mind a piece of ice that I was sure existed somewhere in quiet solitude. I thought that the ice man probably knew where that piece of ice was. It was frozen hard, so hard that I thought nothing could be harder. It was the biggest piece of ice in the world. It was somewhere very far away, and the ice man was passing on the memories of that ice to me and to the world. At first, I felt confused when the ice man made love to me. But, after a while, I got used to it. I even started to love having sex with the ice man. In the night, we silently shared that enormous piece of ice, in which hundreds of millions of years all the pasts of the world were stored.

Ultimately, though we will probably never be able to understand what the ice man is, what we can derive from the story is the nature of relationships. Here we see how the girl incorporates aspects of the ice man in her because of their marriage, because of their love-making. In a way, the joining of their bodies slowly makes them become one. So much so that the girl associates herself with the ice man more than her own family: We were different from them, and no amount of time could bridge the gap between us.

However, despite all that, the girl soon realizes that she is still different from the ice man, that she still has a fire in her: So, while the ice man was working, I stayed at home by myself, reading books and listening to music...But I was still young, and doing the same thing day after day eventually began to bother me. It wasn't the boredom that hurt. It was the repetition. Here we see that unlike the ice man, the girl still has that warmth in her, the warmth that drives her to explore new things, to do other things, to obliterate monotonous patterns and live her life. After all, she is still young indeed. What she does, then, is she suggests to her husband that they go on a trip.

She says: I am happy. But I'm bored. I feel like travelling somewhere far away and seeing things that I've never seen before. I want to see what it's like to breathe new air. She then suggests that they go to the South Pole out of consideration for her husband being an ice man. To her dismay, however, this triggered something in the ice man, and he became distant towards her. She then suggests going to Spain instead, but the ice man decided that they go to the South Pole since he'd already bought there tickets. During this time, the girl began to have a recurring dream which reveals to us a great deal about the ice man, the girl, and their relationship.

The truth is that I was scared. I had a premonition that if we went to the South Pole something would happen to us that we might not be able to undo. I was having this bad dream over and over again. It was always the same. I'd be out taking a walk and I'd fall into a deep crevasse that had opened up in the ground. Nobody would find me, and I'd freeze down there. Shut up inside the ice, I'd stare up at the sky. I'd be conscious, but I wouldn't be able to move, not even a finger. I'd realize that moment by moment I was becoming the past. As people looked at me, at what I'd become, they were looking at the past. I was a scene moving backward, away from them.

If viewed as a metaphor or symbol, their relationship could be likened to someone who is very much obsessed with the past. In a sense, being that the ice man only knows the past and the essence of ice is the past, one could suggest that the girl married the past-married even her own past, perhaps. Here she even states, ...moment by moment I was becoming the past.

When she'd wake up, she'd find the ice man sleeping beside her: He always slept without breathing, like a dead man. This also gives us a hint of the nature and essence of the past, or someone living in the past. Breathing in that statement can be understood to refer to simply living, living life as one should live life. This is why the repetition bothered the girl. Repetition was no way to truly live. Hence, she had the urge and desire to go on a trip. Her trip however, would only expose her to more ice, to more of the past, to more monotony because she would see nothing in the South Pole but ice and snow.

The South Pole was lonely beyond anything I had expected. Almost no one lived there...There wasn't a single penguin. And you couldn't see the aurora australis. There were no trees, flowers, rivers, or ponds. Everywhere I went, there was only ice.

It is also at this point that we see the ice man change as well. The minute he steps off the plane, the girl mentions: ...I felt my husband's body lurch. What comes thereafter is that it seems as though it is the ice man who looks as though he has more fire or warmth in him than does the girl. The girl is slowly wasting away, while her husband goes off and enjoys himself to no end.

I eventually lost all my strength. Bit by bit, bit by bit. In the end, I didn't even have the energy to feel irritated anymore. It was as though I had lost the compass of my emotions somewhere. I had lost track of where I was heading, I had lost track of time, and I had lost all sense of my own self.

This suggests the effect of ice, or the past, on the girl. In a way it is also a very real depiction of what happens when one is too fixated on one's past as well. We forget to breathe in a sense, and we lose sense of both time and who we really are. Who we are is replaced by who we were, what we'd done, and what happened before. Time, in a sense, has stopped for these kinds of people, because they are no longer conscious of what is currently happening around them. Their focus is completely on what has been. As the girl says near the end of the story, The eternal past, heavy beyond all comprehension, had us in its grasp. We would never shake it off.

Review:

Sometimes, we tend to notice these people who are a little different from the others, those who seem to have the whole world on their shoulders. Sometimes, we will gravitate towards these people because we see their hurt, and the troubles. We might do this because we think we can help them, because we feel that if we hang around them, maybe we wouldn't be so lonely ourselves.

In those kinds of relationships the only outcome will be is if one succumbs to the other. Meaning, either those with the fire are doused, or those who've frozen over are melted down. Our desire to help that person out of that slump may backfire, and we may end up being the one consumed instead. I believe this is because we first have to understand that we cannot help someone who does not want to help himself or herself. Our happiness should not be reliant on another person's wants and desires, but our own. Sometimes, we have to be selfish, otherwise we will pull ourselves down, and perhaps even drag others down with us.

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