This Little Box of Ours
"Sleep" by Murakami Haruki is a great story with metaphorical elements that questions our preconceived perceptions of the role that individuals play in society. It's a story that raises the question of whether life is a never-ending cycle; a routine; an exercise of some sort that involves the repetition of daily activities. Going by this chain of thought, we can say that everyone is thus susceptible to going with the mundane; what is socially acceptable or what will foster our image to a heightened level, thereby altering the way in which society views us. Murakami does not merely portray the life of a woman who cannot sleep, but in effectually, he presents a dilemma that we find various societies facing, including Japanese society. That dilemma is the product of conformity.
It is through conformity that the narrator found herself in the position she's in; after all, she sacrificed her own hopes and dreams to best cater to her husband and child. In so doing, she lost a part of herself, a sense of her individuality and personal freedom, to family duty and tradition. Over time she feels the walls of society crushing over her, she cannot bear to remain aloof any longer, and finally she gives in to her inner desires and ambitions. She dares to stand against tradition and conformity when she no longer finds herself able to sustain her own life. It was a bold step against a life that had swallowed her up so completely to the point that her "footprints were being blown away before [she] even had a chance to turn and look at them" (81). This motioned to her that it was important to take control of her being, choose her own path, and do as she pleased. What better way is there to do so than to stop sleeping?
In order to break free from conformity she had to prepare herself mentally and physically for the task. She had to stop thinking in the terms of reality; she had to let go of old ways and values to embrace the new, exciting, and unexplored path. She could feel her thinking transforming "in its own room, on the other side of a transformed wall..." while her "physical self was drifting through" just as before, only now it could restrain from sleep (75). In other words, she had taking control of her mind and body, and did not allow society to dictate how she behaved or felt about herself any longer. No one else could do this for her; not even her husband, because he could not understand, after all he was just a man as well. There is "some element that makes his face have no distinguishing features", because he was part of all the eternal forces that kept her in her prescribed place. Therefore once she had broken free from those forces, it is not surprising that she found it difficult to "remember what he looked like" (77).
She had wanted to forget all about her past, and instead become immersed in her new self. She was well aware that "you can't have everything your own way", and so she was going to embrace this little victory of hers (79). She felt bigger and more awesome than reality, because she thought "what a simple thing reality is; how easy it is to make it work" (96). She felt as if it was at her finger tips and she could manipulate it any which way. This explains why she could not recognize characters, plots or anything from a book she had been reading, and felt as if she had "been reading a whole new book" (90). She had desired so much to make her dreams a reality that when it happened she was incapable of recognizing fiction.
After her transformation, she becomes more interested in the little pleasures of life. At one point she craved for chocolate so much so that she "couldn't bear to be denied it for another moment" (90). She began to take more interest in her looks, and she even discovered that her "body appeared to be almost bursting with vitality", and that her "...skin had far more glow, far more tautness, than it had before" (97). At this point, she no longer cared that her "...body had no more feeling than a drowned corpse", or that her "...life in the world, seemed like a hallucination" (75).
Sleep did not matter to her anymore, because sleep brought her back to reality, and in reality she was "consumed by...tendencies and then sleeping to repair the damage"; her "life was nothing but a repetition of this cycle" (99). The part of her "...in existence that was not being consumed..." gave her "...this intensely real feeling of being alive" (100). The part of her being consumed was the part of her that suffered the consequences of deviating from the norm, from a line of demarcation between her and tradition. Nevertheless, she took joy in the little part of her not consumed, because it gave her "the power to concentrate" on the things that mattered the most-liberty and choice-and to expand herself (100). "Living without this power would be like opening one's eyes without seeing anything", because it would mean living as before as if everything was right, without ever looking inwardly at herself and her desires instead of looking externally to please everyone (102). Indeed, as her world was changing, changing all too fast as if "it would never be the same again" (102), she became extremely bothered by those who were still engaged with reality-especially by her "son's sleeping face..." which looked "exactly like [her] husband's (102).
Their faces reminded her of the frightful reality that was beckoning around her existence. But, she had become "a priori...An evolutionary leap...A women who never sleeps...An expansion of consciousness", therefore who or what could make her return to her societal role when in fact she was well "beyond that"? (107). In the end, the truth was that she was only beyond so much as the walls of society would allow, because sooner or later, she would have to conform to something again. In due time, she would be "locked inside this little box", like the rest of us (109).