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Lobby Display: Kafka on the Shore

by Steppenwolf Theatre Company

BLOOD In the story, blood is only exposed or released in the context of violent or sexual situations. CATS Whether they’re seen waving in a restaurant window or feared when crossing paths with on a dark night, cats are an iconic figure among the Japanese. In Murakami’s work, cats are elusive and preternaturally attuned to sexual or violent disturbances, and their disappearance is always a portent of danger. CROW Kafka’s alter ego in the text, Crow is the physical embodiment of Kafka’s inner consciousness. One of the only animals that can recognize itself in a mirror, crows can represent the opposing forces of death and familial nurturing. In Prague, where Franz Kafka lived, the Czech word Kafka means “crow.” DISEMBOWELMENT Disembowelment is a particularly intimate, gruesome and painful method of execution. The act involves a sharp weapon such as the sword of a samurai in feudal-era Japan or the bayonet of a Japanese soldier in World War II FATHER A symbol of authority and power, the father can stand for a domineering force that crushes individuality and must be fought and overcome to move forward. FOREST Related to the idea of labyrinth, being lost in a forest can reference exploring the dark mysteries of the unconscious. This powerful image has been used in stories from “Hansel & Gretel” to “Little Red Riding Hood.” Deviation from the forest path can bring about dangerous (and liberating) transformation. HOSHINO A truck driver who picks up a hitch-hiking Nakata and joins his quest. INTESTINES An allusion to the layout of the labyrinth, intestines represent the dark, intricate, hidden aspects of inner consciousness. JOHNNIE WALKER The dapper Striding Man clad in top hat, waistcoat, cane, and boots is the trademark character of the world’s most popular brand of Scotch whiskey. KAFKA The title character in the play is a young man whose coming of age journey has him leave his home and father in Tokyo. His name, also featured in the title of Miss Saeki’s song “Kafka on the Shore,” is a reference to writer Franz Kafka, whose work concerns characters who are subjected to arbitrary or irrational powers. Kafka means “crow” in Czech. LABYRINTH The labyrinth originates from the ancient Mesopotamians who used animal intestines to predict the future. A famous example is the one created by the King of Crete to imprison the monstrous half-man half-bull Minotaur, a product of a shameful adulterous liaison. The labyrinth is associated with initiation journeys where you must face dangerous elements and there is no guarantee you will find your way out. LIGHTNING STORMS Lightning can signify fear of a force beyond control, acts of an arbitrary destructive power or the potent hand of fate at work, and can have life-altering consequences. NAKATA Nakata is an illiterate man in his sixties. The contents of his mind were quite literally erased by a strange childhood trauma during World War II. He woke from a long coma unable to read, write, or remember anything. Now, he can talk to cats. They talk back. MISS SAEKI Miss Saeki, an elegant, mysterious woman in her fifties who runs the library. When she was young, Miss Saeki wrote a love song for her fiancée that became a huge hit single, but after his violent murder, she retreated from the world. SAKURA Sakura is the Japanese name for cherry trees and cherry blossoms, which are thought of as mythic omens of good fortune and love, representing the spring and also suggests generosity or hope. COL. SANDERS Harland Sanders (1890-1980), the founder and public face of Kentucky Fried Chicken who traveled 250,000 miles a year visiting KFC restaurants around the world. SEX The sex drive, with its potentially dangerous side effects, is a primal force that compels us to find completion in the other. In Kafka’s journey, this occasionally takes an Oedipal form as it mixes with his desire to reunite with his mother. SHORE A shore represents the threshold between one element and another, i.e. solid and liquid. In Murakami’s work, it often signifies the borderline between consciousness and unconsciousness, with the ocean and the creatures within symbolizing the vast unconscious mind.