Monday, November 28, 2011

Agency in 1Q84



by MAB (bio)

I just finished reading "1Q84", a thousand page novel by Haruki Murakami. I've read four of his novels now and couldn't put any of them down. This, his latest novel is probably my least favorite though. I'll talk a little about the book but won't give anything important away.

The book follows a girl "Aomame" and her eventual boyfriend "Tengo". They first meet in grade school but only say a few words to each other and very briefly hold hands. Shortly after Aomame's family moves to another part of Tokyo. Many years later they realize they are deeply in love with each other and always have been. It's a good love story (note: R rating) with a healthy dose of magic realism. I'm no expert on love stories but I would bet the grade school fling that comes back to haunt young adults is a common theme. One book that used this to great effect was "Love in the Time of Cholera." So, to delayed love gratification, add some Romeo and Juliet style star-crossed love baked in the magic realism oven and you get 1Q84.

There is much I could write about in the book. For instance, Aomame has a spiritual awakening at one point. But for me it wasn't as thought provoking as it could have been. I had no desire to slow down while reading about it, like I did when reading Ivan's religious thoughts and discussions in "The Brother's Karamazov".

One aspect of the book that I do think is interesting is the main characters' childhoods. Aomame was raised in a strictly religious family (The Society of Witnesses which resembles the Jehovah's Witnesses). Her mother forced her to go door to door with her on Sundays to preach. Tengo's father forced him to go door to door to gather fees for the public television broadcast service (NHK, which you could easily argue was his father's religion). The author hints at the idea that both sets of parents might be trying to teach their children the value of hard work, but they might also be doing it because having a child along makes the preaching and fee collecting more effective. Both children were negatively impacted, and you could say scarred by their forced Sunday activities.

Their childhood, which I should remember is fictional, got me thinking about agency and children. How often do we force children to do things against their will? What impact does that have on them and us? I think this is a gray area for many reasons. I would always force my children to stay out of a busy road for instance. But would I force them to go to church? If so, up to what age? How strong is the force? Whereas some parent might change the locks on an 18 year-old that isn't living by the rules (tough love), others might embrace a youth's exploration and self-discovery, hoping for the best (a different kind of love where natural consequences reign?).

Thinking a bit deeper about agency, whereas we can often force people to do things physically, we can't do so mentally or spiritually. Or can we? Sure, our children will ultimately make up their own minds but we can plant seeds (both good and bad) and persuade in any number of ways. Going a step further we can think about the oft debated issues of predestination, fore-ordination and omniscience. Wait - that would take too long. Let's just ponder a simple example. How about Lucifer? Can he stop being devilish and become a true follower of Christ? It seems that if he did some second coming prophecy would cease to make sense. So can Satan change teams? If I were Satan (pretty sure I'm not) I would do it just to foil the plan but maybe he's not that mischievous.

The more I think about agency the more complicated it seems. What are your thoughts, especially as it relates to raising children?

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