The Myth of Modern Mother Mary: an analysis of “All God’s Children Can Dance” by Haruki Murakami 


Essay by Regina Ivy

Religion is absurd. The act of putting faith in something that is not tangible obviously does not make sense to many. It is absurdism that recognizes that life happens despite the meanings we may or may not make for it. Religion offers a way to make sense of life despite its absurdity. The two concepts are seemingly polarizing. Then, what is there to say about those who believe in completely absurd things – in the name of God? I turn to Haruki Murakami for answers. In his short story, “All God’s Children Can Dance” I truly feel there is a way to prove that religion is not only every bit absurd as life itself, but that the absurdity of it is vital for those who live by it.

All God’s Children Can Dance”  centres around 25-year-old Yoshiya. Yoshiya feels that he is not extraordinary in any specific way despite his strange, overly religious upbringing and abnormally large penis. His mother, however, insists that he is special. Yoshiya is the son of God – or at least she believes he is. The mother fell into an unfortunate relationship with her doctor- a young bachelor who taught her contraceptive methods and was missing an earlobe. The intimate relationship with this doctor occurs around the same time in which Yoshiya’s mother became pregnant. The doctor refused to admit that the child could be his, which led Yoshiya’s mother to eventually believe that the child came from above.

One afternoon, Yoshiya spots a man with a missing earlobe entering the subway. He believes him to be his father. Yoshiya follows the man until he cannot track him anymore and ends up alone on a baseball field. He contemplates his life and the absurd circumstances that have made him the person he is. It is in that baseball diamond where Yoshiya comes to believe that all of God’s children can dance.

Absurdism is the struggle to find meaning in an existence that potentially has none. If there is one, it couldn’t ever be accessible to humans. In Albert Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus, he argues for living life anyway despite its nonsensical chaos. In a sense, we must continue living because we just have to. The only other option in our own hands is death, which according to Camus, is a confession that says life “is not worth the trouble–” which is strikingly similar to a thought that Yoshiya’s mother had when carrying him during her pregnancy.

In the essay, Camus details the myth of Sisyphus. He was cursed by the gods to roll a stone up a hill over and over again in the underworld for eternity. How would there be any way to overcome this if he knew he would fail every time? Well, according to Camus, “one might imagine Sisyphus happy” because “the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.”

Religion is the belief in and life-consuming dedication to a higher power beyond human comprehension. Many religious officials believe they understand the character of God, but it is to no avail – because no such thing has ever been agreed upon. This is why churches split, denominations are created, and church attendances are dropping. If God is meant to be the ultimate answer to life’s absurdities, then would He not be clearer about who He is? Yoshiya ponders God’s nature in the story, he asks, “if it was all right for God to test man, why was it wrong for man to test God?” Yoshiya is not asking to be God in this moment, or for a chance to try to get the best of Him. Yoshiya is asking for clarity and fairness. It is Yoshiya who blames Mr Tabata for his own death- because he never took it into his own hands to ask God for healing. Yoshiya thinks:


“His [Mr. Tabata’s] final months of suffering were excruciating to see. Had he never once in all that time tested God? Had he never once prayed to God for some small relief from his terrible pain? Mr Tabata had observed his own strict commandments with such rigor and lived in such intimate contact with God that he of all people was qualified to make such prayers.”

While religion does offer the presence of a higher power to lay burdens on, it still requires a sense of autonomy, agency and choice that has to come from the individual.

Yoshiya’s mother believes she is the modern mother Mary, and that Yoshiya is one of God’s special children. She believes certain parts of his body are a sign of this – despite Yoshiya never asking for any of it. The story states that “the craziness of it struck him. All he had ever prayed for was the ability to catch outfield flies, in answer to which God had bestowed upon him a penis that was bigger than anybody else’s. What kind of world came up with such idiotic bargains?” As absolutely crazy as that belief may sound, it is Ms Osaki’s right to keep believing so. It motivates her to keep living – or to revolt, as Camus puts it. Yoshiya’s mother believes very insane things – but she believes that they are possible because of God. She landed herself in a situation that left her down on her luck – she needed to believe something, otherwise she would have given up completely and taken her own life. She claims she “wasn’t the least bit afraid to die,” and that she would have thrown herself off a boat to Oshima had Mr Tabata not stepped in and told her this: 

“You took the most rigorous contraceptive measures, and yet you became pregnant. Indeed, you became pregnant three times in a row. Do you imagine that such a thing could happen by chance? I for one do not believe it. Three ‘chance’ occurrences are no longer ‘chance.’ The number three is none other than that which is used by our Lord for revelations. In other words, Miss Osaki, it is our Lord’s wish for you to give birth to a child. The child you are carrying is not just anyone’s child, Miss Osaki: it is the child of our Lord in Heaven; a male child, and I shall give it the name of Yoshiya, ‘For it is good.” (Murakami)

Although her story about Yoshiya being one of God’s special children is crazy – it is her way of embracing the “absurd” thing that has happened in her life: the pregnancy. It is the pregnancy that acts as her “boulder” she is continually rolling up the steep hill of life.

Some philosophers might say that religion is a pacifier, a “lazy out” for those not mentally strong enough to handle the “truth” of life having no inherent meaning. Religion has been referred to as “the opioid of the masses.” But what makes a belief in God any different than a belief in no meaning at all? If religious people are fulfilled by making decisions, they know will please their god, then how is that any different than a person bound to Nothing being fulfilled by making choices that affect Nothing? My point here is belief in God is just as much (or as little) as a “pacifier” as a belief in anything else. Religion does not offer a life of passivity and complacency, for those who are religious still feel strain and struggle as much as anyone else. What it does offer is a way to embrace the struggle in the way Camus suggests in his essay. 

Religion, by its very nature, is absurd. It requires one to put faith in something that they cannot see or lay hands on. But the faith is not for holding out hope that one day we might stop struggling- it is to help us embrace that very struggle and move on with our lives. To quote the apostle Paul:


 “… I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (New International Version, Philippians 4:11-13)

Not in the struggle itself, not in conquering the struggle, but the embrace of it – this is where true freedom lies. And it is true no matter how one might choose to do it. Embracing the struggle is not about being passive and sitting at the sidelines of life because the embrace itself is an action and a choice. We choose to not let the struggles of life bother us through whatever means we see most fit. Perhaps that is through God, or through Nothing, or maybe through the love we have for those around us.

All God’s Children Can Dance” ends with Yoshiya alone on a baseball field. He had just followed a mysterious man that resembled what he knew about his biological father – but he has disappeared. Alone in the field, he thinks about his past, his relationships, and his life – and he dances. The dance in this story is an expression of freedom, the story mentions his lack of fear, it says:

“Unable to think of a song to match his mood, he danced in time with the stirring of the grass and the flowing of the clouds. Before long, he began to feel that someone, somewhere, was watching him. His whole body—his skin, his bones—told him with absolute certainty that he was in someone’s field of vision. So what? he thought. Let them look if they want to, whoever they are. All God’s children can dance.”

Why is he dancing? I do not know – but it is also not for me to know. Perhaps somewhere between God’s absurd answers to his prayers and the unwavering faiths of his naïve mother and good friend, he’s found a truth of his own, an epiphany that makes him call out: “Oh God.”

Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1942. Translated by Justin O’Brien, ebook ed., New York Vintage Books, 1991

Murakami, Haruki. “All God’s Children Can Dance.” After the Quake, translated by Jay Rubin, ebook ed., London, Vintage, 2003.

New International Version. Bible Gateway. 

 

Regina Ivy is an English and Middle Grades Education student at the University of Illinois in Springfield. Regina enjoys challenging herself with different writing styles and rambling about her opinions and calling them "essays." When she's not doing that she's probably reading or watching more things she can form an opinion about. Regina is the managing editor of her own campus's literary journal Violet Margin. She has not had her work published in a literary collection so she is very honored to be included!