Chick Lit and Chick Flick Reviews
This is a short story by Haruki Murakami, which is part of his book of short stories entitled, “The Elephant Vanishes”. This is a stylistics review I made for my literature class, and I hope will help students or readers better understand the complexity of this short story. It offers a fresh (hopefully) perspective on the interpretation because most online reviews emphasise the romantic aspect of the story. I won’t give a long introduction about this because my review (around 7 pages) is quite enough for readers to understand the story using stylistics.
On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is part of Haruki Marukami’s Elephant Vanishes, which is a collection of short stories he wrote between 1983 to 1990. They were translated and then published in English in 1993. Murakami’s writing style is well manifested in this collection; the stories combine normality with surrealism and involve themes such as, destruction, loneliness, confusion, and loss. His short story On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning keeps faithful to this and through a very simple encounter in a narrow side street in Japan, Murakami is able to tell a beautiful story of guy who longs to have the courage to approach a girl.
On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning tells the story of a guy who met his 100% perfect girl on a fine April morning in Japan’s fashionable Harujuku neighborhood. Throughout the story the guy recounts the ideas that came up in his mind while walking through the narrow side street. While walking, he thought of several scenarios on how to approach the woman and engage her in a conversation.
Murakami’s decision to put half of the story in the first person point of view allows the reader to understand the inner thoughts of the man and get inside his mind. Through his ideas we see a guy whose main conflict or struggle throughout the story is how he will approach a girl. However, at the surface the story may look like an ordinary occurrence for most guys, the story of this guy has underlying meaning and shows a lot about his personality. The reader is given a glimpse of a guy who is shallow, lonely, and lacks self-confidence. This is a guy, who at 32 years old is still involved in the fantasy world and is too engrossed in his imagination. He does not have the maturity and the confidence to approach the woman that he likes. At the same time, his fantasy of love is very shallow since he has concluded from seeing the woman 50 yards away that she is the 100% perfect girl for him. At the same time, his experience on seeing his 100% perfect girl is not something unusual by reading the conversation he had in the story with someone whom he retold the encounter. In order to better analyze the inner workings of this man’s mind, it is significant to look at the story more closely and analyze it.
First of all, the title of the story is very catchy. It draws the reader in because it leaves us hanging and wanting to know what happens to the guy when he saw the girl. Moreover, the title is a dependent clause, which simply affirms the first observation. Upon reading the title, the reader will try to figure out during the story what happened when he passed by the girl. This is similar to the questions posed by the person whom the guy retold the story to. It is also important to note the verb used in the title, “seeing”, which does not connote much as compared to “meeting”. This already gives a clue to the reader that probably nothing deep really happened.
Second, before going into a deeper analysis of the story, it is important to note that there were no names mentioned in the story. The 100% perfect girl was not named in the story and was simply referred to as that or the 100% girl. He also mentioned that she is not close to a girl actually because she looks to be near thirty. It is worth looking at the noun he used because instead of referring to the girl as a woman he stuck with the word “girl” even though he already rejected the idea that she is close to a “girl” by saying “not even close to a girl”. A girl is described in most dictionaries as someone who is a young female and is not mature yet. In this case, the woman is almost thirty, which could show that is she not really young as compared to teens or kids who reflect the “girl” definition. At the same time, this already could give a glimpse to the personality of the guy because it probably reflects his maturity level. That he does not want to refer to the “girl” as a “woman” because by then she would be mature. Although Murakami wrote this in the 1980’s, it is still worth looking at it in the perspective of today’s definition of the term. HBO currently has an award winning series entitled Girls and viewers see the portrayal of girls such as, 26-year-old Lena Dunham and her friends on how puerile or immature they could be. On the other hand, an article in Harvard’s Crimson (Pelet, “In and Around Language: Girl vs. Woman”) described woman as,
‘Woman,’ then, serves as a contrast to this youthful depiction of females. Second-wave feminists, especially, preferred the term: they emphasized the drawbacks of using a term like ‘girl’ when talking about females, for it implies a certain docility that they believed stripped women of control. In any case, ‘woman’ is meant to indicate an acquired sense of maturity and self-respect that ‘girls’ lack.
Therefore, by looking at the term used to describe the 100% perfect girl, it somehow reflects the level of maturity of the guy because when one looks for a match it should definitely suit their level.
Furthermore, it is not only the term “girl” that should be considered because it is also very striking that the person whom the narrator talked to is referred to simply as “someone”. The person was not even referred to as a “friend”, whom one would normally expect to have a conversation such as this with. In this case, naming that person simply as “someone” supports the probability that the narrator could not actually build up a normal relationship. At the same time, the brief dismissal of this “someone” during the conversation simply shows that s/he is not too concerned with what happened. If this had been a friend, there would have been more concern involved or even a pretense that the person is interested in the encounter. Although it is also good to note how the conversation took place to better understand the dismissal of “someone” about the 100% perfect girl since it could show a deeper understanding of why that person simply dismissed the story.
In the conversation, the guy told someone that he passed by the 100% girl. It is noticeable that the conversation is cut up into phrases, which is typical in a conversation. However, there are also plenty monosyllabic words used by the narrator during the exchange. By studying the verbs and adjectives, one could be given more insight on why the conversation was very brief and bored the person the guy was talking to.
|passed (2x)||do?||Not really.||Good looking?|
|talk?||Don’t know.||Favorite type?|
|follow?||Can’t seem to remember|
By looking at the conversation, the person used the verb “passed” this already shows that nothing happened. He passed by the girl, he did not “meet” or “encounter” the girl, which give a deeper tone of interaction. He simply passed by the girl, which already gave a clue to the person he was talking to that nothing really happened. However, “someone” still tried to discover if there’s something more into it by asking, “what did you do? Talk to her? Follow her?” the guy simply said again that he just passed the girl. Therefore, nothing really happened. At the same time, meeting someone’s 100% perfect person, if there is even such a thing, should normally be a profound experience but his description of it was very dismissive and one could see this by looking at the adjectives.
Furthermore, by looking at the words of the narrator one could detect that he does not even know what is his 100% perfect girl since he could not even give a clear or distinct characteristic of the girl that merits her the 100% perfect. Also, one could see that he had this conversation a couple of times already with “someone” because he knows that he has a favorite type. Therefore, this is not something new and it probably happens most of the time, which is why the person he was talking to was not too engrossed in the conversation. They also both said “strange”, which shows how peculiar the situation is, because he could not remember the girl but in his mind she is 100% perfect for him. It has become strange because he probably simply made up that this girl is perfect for him in his desperation to humor himself by imagining because deep inside he knows nothing will happen. He was on his way to somewhere and he was probably bored and he came up with a story in his mind to ease his loneliness and occupy himself.
The term 100% perfect girl is also questionable because no one is perfect in this world, and it is inexplicable that he came up with the idea and concluded that this girl is perfect for him after seeing her 50 yards away. If he is merely talking about physical attraction, then the distance is too far for him to determine whether she is perfect. At the same time, while walking in the street he was already imagining what are the possible ways he could talk to her. Therefore, instead of really focusing on the girl he was up in his mind fantasizing. When they were already 15 yards from each other, instead of looking at the girl he noticed the letter she was holding. This shows that he did not really look at the face of the girl but looked down, showing that he did not have the confidence to look at a girl in the face. This is established by his description of the envelope, where he noticed that it is crisp white and does not have a stamp. If he could notice that very small detail that there was no stamp then he clearly was looking intently at the envelop and not the girl, especially since passing someone will only take a few seconds to take place.
This is also the reason why he could not give any concrete description of how the girl looked like. By studying the adjectives he used one could see that it is very questionable how he could say that this is the 100% perfect girl.
|Not that good looking|
|Doesn’t stand out|
|Hair bent out of shape|
|Not close to a “girl”|
|No great beauty|
|Can’t recall if she had a nose|
|Can’t remember her eyes or size of breast|
It is also surprising how he noticed this particular girl in Harujuku, which is a fashionable neighborhood and where plenty striking women pass by. The lack of any concrete description of how the girl looks like, along with the distance, simply shows that he did not really notice the girl but he was simply fantasizing that this is the perfect girl for him. If this girl really made his chest rumble and his mouth dry then it should follow that he could at least remember something more specific about the girl, but he could not. This is because he was more focused on his imagination and his inner conflict of how he will approach the girl.
All throughout the story the guy’s is in conflict with himself because he did not know what he would do to approach the girl and this is revealed in the verbs in the story such as – wish, talk, ask, tell, do, explain, approach. This is what he wants to do, however he lacks the ability to act on this. By looking at the adjectives he used for his ideas on how to approach the girl – ridiculous (2x), never practical, long speech, far too long – it could be seen that he has never actually approached a girl. He does not know what to do and what to say.
This problem could also be attributed to the guy’s fear of rejection, which is very well manifested in his thoughts and choice of modal verbs. He said “No, she wouldn’t believe it.” The word “would” is very definite and he has already established in his mind that this girl would not believe him. He used “would” in the first sentence of his paragraph to signify that whatever he says, the girl will not believe him. He then went on using “could” (2x) and “might” (2x) to show the possible circumstances on how the girl could reject him. He went on to say “I’d go to pieces…I’d never recover” to signify the effect of what will happen if he is rejected. His fear outweighs his desire to approach the girl. If this girl is the perfect girl then one would do anything to approach that girl and be with that girl, but in this case she was probably not really 100% perfect for him because she did not move him to risk rejection.
The most significant part of this story and took up almost half of it is the tale the narrator told about a boy and a girl. He said that this is what he should have told the girl. He started the story with the formulaic “Once upon a time”, which is evident in almost all fairytales. Storytelling is concerned with an action or behavior that has to be verbalized and the storyteller creates a fairytale in order to make himself relevant (Zipes, 10). In the case of this guy, he resorted to creating a fairytale not only to manifest his concern but also to make his plight relevant and show what it was that should not have been done but was done. Zipes further explained the function of fairytale as something that “awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life and to evoke profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that most people experience” (848-849). In this case, the narrator came up with this fairytale to show that it truly is a miracle to find one’s perfect other. This could be verified through his use of the word “miracle” in the fairytale, which he repeated five times, and “dream” that was repeated twice. He even further described this as a “cosmic miracle” because finding one’s perfect girl/boy is something that does not really happen. He also emphasized the word “perfect” by repeating it 11 times in the fairytale further magnifying his desire to be with the perfect person for himself, which is not truly possible because this will take a miracle.
The way the second part is written is very different from the first part where the narrator talks in the first person point of view. The fairytale is written in the third person point of view, the language used is very formal as compared to the first part, which was colloquial and casual. Most fairytales are rich in language, which is evident in the short story’s line “The cold, indifferent waves of fate proceeded to toss them unmercifully.” It follows the formula of a typical fairytale where the protagonist has to go somewhere and come back as a different and better person. In this case, the protagonists – boy and girl – met but separated to test themselves, however, they had a terrible case of influenza and lost their memories. Like in usual fairytales where the protagonist comes back after undergoing a miraculous change, the boy and the girl came back from their terrible sickness. However, although the narrator said that the protagonists came back as better persons and possess all the qualities of full-fledged members of the society, the qualities associated with this were very immature. His description of full-fledged was very shallow – able to transfer lines in the subway and sending mail, which manifests the shallowness and immaturity of what the narrator identifies as important. In the same way that he was looking for the 100% perfect girl that does not even exist.
Zipes said, “Fairytales, like our own lives, were born out of conflict” (20). In the fairytale, the conflict that comes up was both the boy and the girl were lonely. In the guy’s story, the conflict throughout was how he would approach her but an underlying conflict of loneliness also arises after deeper analysis of the guy’s situation. He has so much time to indulge in fantasies and come up with a fairytale, which simply shows that he is lonely and he desires to be with someone but he could not. The word loneliness was repeated three times in the fairytale, which does not only show the problem of the protagonists but also reflect the issue of the guy since as Zipes said, “the very act of reading a fairy tale is an uncanny experience in that it separates the reader from the restrictions of reality from the onset and makes the repressed unfamiliar familiar once again.” (174)
Fairytales also always involve a lesson to be learned. The guy came up with this fairytale and like all tales it shows a lesson; in this case they should never have undertaken the test because they will never find each other again. The same goes with the story of the guy, where he lost the opportunity to talk to the girl because he was too scared of rejection and he lacked the confidence to approach her. By losing this opportunity, the chance of him seeing her again is very low especially in a city that is very populated like Tokyo where Harujuku is located. Furthermore, before even starting the story he already knows how it will end when he said, “it would have started ‘Once upon a time’ and ended ‘A sad story, don’t you think?’” This simply shows that even in his fantasy he knows that nothing will end happily because like in his reality, nothing ever happens.
Moreover, the guy’s conception of a fairytale verifies that he is too engrossed with fantasy rather than facing reality. He is all in his own head that is why he lacks the ability to act on something in reality. The guy’s use of 100% perfect girl also supports this because it is very impossible to find someone perfect. If we try to humor this guy and believe that this girl is perfect for him, as time passes he will definitely find certain flaws in this girl. The question that will remain then is whether he will still like her or not. John Green said, “I don’t know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.” His 100% perfect girl might even be a hindrance for him from truly finding a girl for himself.
Zipes said, “Fairy tales are uncanny because they tell us what we need and they unsettle us by showing what we lack and how we might compensate for lack.” (1) In this case, through the fairytale the readers see a lonely guy seeking for a girl, he gets an opportunity, a miraculous opportunity, but lets go of it in the same way that when he passed by his so-called 100% girl, he did nothing. He lacks the ability to act when an opportunity comes, he is lonely but he tries to compensate for it by fantasizing rather than acting, he is waiting for a miracle to happen in his life but he does not have the ability to make that miracle happen. To finally complete the title of the story and conclude what happened when he passed the girl, we can finally say that nothing happened when he saw the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April morning.
Green, John. “Quotable Quote”. GoodReads. Goodreads Inc., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
Murakami, Haruki. “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.” Elephant Vanishes. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.
Pelet, Valeria. “In and Around Language: Girl vs. Woman”. The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, Inc, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.
Zipes, Jack. The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. Princeton University Press, 2012. Print.
Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversión: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Zipes, Jack. The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy Tale Films. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.