Animals in the Fiction of John Irving and Haruki Murakami
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis examines animals in the fiction of John Irving and Haruki Murakami, two authors who have much in common, contemporaries whose work is both commercially successful and regarded as literary. Different in that Irving works within a traditional realist framework while Murakami delves into the magical, each includes animals in his fiction. They employ anthropomorphism and zoomorphism in a variety of ways and demonstrate how animals, as Claude Levi-Strauss puts it, are “good to think with”. I draw on the work of Erica Fudge in an overview of thinking with animals and examine the role of anthropomorphism and how it complements animal advocacy and liberationism in Irving’s Setting Free the Bears. I compare and contrast anthropomorphism and zoomorphism in The Hotel New Hampshire. In doing this, I complicate and challenge Wendy Doniger’s assertion that “sexuality makes humans into animals; language makes animals into humans”. This also applies to Murakami’s animals, who have further roles including enabling engagement with a magical dimension. I argue that, as instantiated in both writers’ fiction, animals evoke thought effectively largely because they are, as John Berger puts it, “both like and unlike”, and as Fudge identifies, that the “paradox of like and not like…exists in our fascination with animals”. My argument is that it is this very paradox, that they are simultaneously both “them” and “us”, along with other factors, such as the diversity, versatility and the inherent ambiguity of animals, that renders them fascinating. Furthermore, Murakami’s magically real animals link conceptual realms that are conventionally separate and facilitate criticism and challenging of conventional human hegemonic structures while operating outside national and cultural boundaries. In summary, Irving’s and Murakami’s animals are good to think with for many reasons, not despite their enigmatic furry ambiguity, but largely because of it.