You are on page 1of 10

The Second Bakery Attack Notes

1. Summary
2. Characterisation
3. Symbolism
4. Cinematic Image
5. Narrative Technique (inc. Voice and Style)
6. Theme
Haruki Murakamis writing employs a stark and plaintive
style which stands in contrast with the surrealism of his
stories plots. His prose is often very basic, which allows the
depth and scope of his ideas room to flourish in the readers
imagination.
1. Summary
The Second Bakery Attack opens with a newlywed couple waking
simultaneously in the night in the grip of a ravenous hunger.
They decide to get up and look for food to satisfy this
yearning, whereupon the distinction in their personalities
becomes evident.
The wife is revealed to be a highly motivated individual who
is both determined and resourceful, while the husband is
directionless, distracted and unable to assist in the search for
nourishment. His only significant contribution to the situation
is in remarking that the last time he felt such a hunger was
the time of the bakery attack.
It intrigues his wife to discover that he believes he was
cursed for carrying out a minor heist in the search for food and
she insists they attack another bakery in an attempt to finish
what you left unfinished.
She leads the way as the couple hold up a McDonalds
(sometimes you have to compromise) and is satisfied in the
end as she falls asleep in the car as the sun rises. However,
the husband appears only to be content that he is alone now,
suggesting that the compromise in their action failed to effect
real change in their relationship and that they will again wake
up hungry before long.
2. Characterisation
Both characters are left unnamed, which may be intended to imply
the lack of true knowledge they have of each other, despite the
fact that they are married.
The Husband (the narrator):
His first words (Im still not sure I made the right
choice) immediately give the impression that our
narrators uncertainty will be his overriding
characteristic.
The Husband withholds the truth where it has the potential
to threaten him and chooses not to divulge information
about his past. (I hadn't been planning to bring it up -
I had forgotten all about it - but it wasn't one of those
now-that-you-mention-it kind of things, either.)
He makes oblique references to issues within his
relationship but also denies the reader the honesty we
would usually expect from a 1
st
person narrator. (we had
yet to establish a precise conjugal understanding with
regard to the rules of dietary behavior. Let alone anything
else.)
The narrator is intimidated by his wife and sees her as the
boss in their relationship. (Whenever my wife expressed
such an opinion (or thesis) back then, it reverberated in
my ears with the authority of a revelation.) There is a
lack of equilibrium in their marriage and he tends not to
air his opinions as he is afraid of her derision.
At four points in the story, he describes his feelings
through a dreamlike image of himself in a boat. He has a
tendency to withdraw from stressful situations into his own
thoughts, meaning that he becomes absorbed in himself and
resolves nothing.

The Wife:
She repeatedly rejects her husbands suggestions and
appears to have little time for his conversation. It
is difficult to see how they have found themselves
married to each other, so disparate are their
personalities.
Her interest in her husband is piqued when he
accidentally mentions the bakery attack. In spite of
her old-fashioned attitudes towards such things as
eating out after midnight, at this point she appears
to be intrigued by the concealed, unpredictable side
of him.
The Wifes control over him is evidently something
which she has developed throughout their relationship
and she appears to see her superiority over him as a
victory. (Well, you're working now, aren't you?")
The practiced efficiency of her movements in
carrying out the second bakery attack suggests that
she is either simply equipped to deal with any
situation she finds herself in, or that she has pulled
off a similar operation in her own secret past...
At the end of the story, The Wife finally falls asleep
and The Husband describes her as feeling as soft and
as light as a kitten ironic given that she has
just taken charge of an armed robbery.
It is significant that only The Wife sleeps as this
implies that the contentment they sought to earn is
hers alone and will ultimately not be enough to
satisfy the special kind of hunger felt by both
partners at the beginning.

3. Symbolism
Food:
The couples hunger which wakes them up simultaneously in
the night represents the lack of substantial love between
them.
Their empty refrigerator suggests that their relationship
has been built on things which will not last.
Comparison between the hunger and the force of the
tornado in The Wizard of Oz implies that this craving
will result in a massive upheaval for the couple, albeit
one which may satisfy their desires.
The food stolen in the first attack has been made
personally by the baker who also runs the shop himself and
closes up when he runs out; on the other hand, when the
couple rob McDonalds, they steal from a multinational chain
restaurant and the food is mass-produced and no one person
has invested any care in its manufacture.
The bread from the first bakery attack kept The Husband and
his friend fed for four or five days, whereas twenty of the
thirty Big Macs stolen from McDonalds are left to waste on
the cars back seat, which hints towards the temporariness
of the satisfaction which they can provide.
The Gun:
(long and stiff as a dead fish, was a Remington automatic
shotgun.) Dead fish have symbolic significance in dreams
and are seen to represent life in the unconscious mind.
Given The Husbands tendency to drift into daydreams, it
is relevant to apply dream symbols to his descriptions of
waking situations. The gun appears to be awakening The
Husband to the reality that his marriage is not working.
Fish also represent attempts to motivate oneself, so it is
possible that he is looking upon this uncomfortable
circumstance as one which he feels he must motivate himself
to avoid in the future.
The blanket that the shotgun is wrapped in is symbolic of
the sleep which could be due to the couple if the attack
successfully reverses the curse (She handed me the
blanket-wrapped shotgun.)
Despite the fact that a gun has obviously masculine
symbolic significance, The Husbands command of it is
threatened by his inability to carry its weight. (The gun
was so heavy I had to rest the barrel on top of the cash
register, my finger on the trigger.) However, his wife is
well aware of his lack of manly qualities and simply
requires him to look as if he is in control for the
purposes of carrying out the raid on the McDonalds.
The Sleeping Couple:
The sleeping couple are intended to stand in contrast with
the main characters, both in terms of their restfulness and
the contentment which lets them sleep. This may be due to
their youth (a young couple--students, probably) as
they are not yet shackled to the responsibilities which
come with marriage and adulthood in general. Most
importantly, the alignment of their heads suggests that
they share opinions and beliefs. (Their two heads and two
strawberry-milk-shake cups were aligned on the table like
an avant-garde sculpture. They slept the sleep of the
dead.) There is no mention of food, only milkshakes,
which may also imply that they do not need to eat to sleep
and that each others company is enough to put them at
ease. Through comparing them to an avant-garde
sculpture, Murakami suggests that The Husband sees such
satisfaction as both perfect like a work of art, and also
extraordinary or unique (avant-garde def: those artists,
writers, musicians, etc., whose techniques and ideas are
markedly experimental or in advance of those generally
accepted) as they are so far from his experience.
It appears that nothing is capable of disturbing their
rest, even violence or danger (The front shutter made a
huge racket when it closed, like an empty bucket being
smashed with a baseball bat, but the couple sleeping at
their table was still out cold.)
Reference to fish links with the boat/undersea volcano
image. Many deep ocean fishes live nearly motionless lives
and can blank their minds to do what we may call
daydreaming. (The customers at the table were still
asleep, like a couple of deep-sea fish. )

4. Cinematic Image
1st:
One, I am in a little boat, floating on a quiet sea. Two, I look
down, and in the water, I see the peak of a volcano thrusting up
from the ocean floor. Three, the peak seems pretty close to the
water's surface, but just how close I cannot tell. Four, this is
because the hypertransparency of the water interferes with the
perception of distance.
The boat represents The Husband in his contentment to drift
through life without direction, while the undersea volcano
symbolises his wife. She encroaches on his space and menaces him
with expectations. The word choice of thrusting creates the
sense that she intimidates and even frightens him. He is unsure
how close the volcano is to his boat, which further emphasises
the terror he feels regarding his wife.
2nd:
While she hunted for more fragments of food, I leaned over the
edge of my boat and looked down at the peak of the underwater
volcano. The clarity of the ocean water all around the boat gave
me an unsettled feeling, as if a hollow had opened somewhere
behind my solar plexus--a hermetically sealed cavern that had
neither entrance nor exit.
His wifes practicality is contrasted with his habit of
daydreaming: she looks for food, while he withdraws into
reverie. Clarity would ordinarily be reassuring but The Husband
is unsettled as he is more content when things are
uncertain. He likens this feeling to emptiness, which links with
the hunger he and his wife are feeling. At this moment, he feels
as if he is stuck in an airtight cave with neither entrance
nor exit, suggesting that he can only feel free as long as he
is oblivious to his responsibilities.
3rd:
I took another look at my undersea volcano. The water was
clearer than before--much clearer. Unless you looked closely,
you might not even notice it was there. It felt as though the
boat were floating in midair, with absolutely nothing to support
it. I could see every little pebble on the bottom. All I had to
do was reach out and touch them.
The Husbands image now has him floating in midair, which
suggests he feels helpless and that his situation is out of his
control. Pebbles can be seen to represent all living things as
whilst in motion, they can spread ripples across the water,
itself symbolic of life. The Husband is aware that he will not
always be in motion and that the decisions he makes (or fails to
make) will decide how he feels as he finally comes to rest. The
final sentence tells us that despite his reticence, he is at
least conscious of the prospect that he could reach out and
bring substantial change to his existence.
4rd:
Alone now, I leaned over the edge of my boat and looked down to
the bottom of the sea. The volcano was gone. The water's calm
surface reflected the blue of the sky. Little waves--like silk
pajamas fluttering in a breeze--lapped against the side of the
boat. There was nothing else.
I stretched out in the bottom of the boat and closed my eyes,
waiting for the rising tide to carry me where I belonged.
Crucially, the narrators peace only comes when he is finally
alone and the volcano has disappeared in synchronisation with
his wife falling asleep. Where the hyper-transparent surface of
the water previously exposed the dangers beneath him, it now
points towards the serenity and sense of possibility brought by
a blue sky above him. The water, once threatening, is now a
comfort and the little waves depict his life as imbued with
activity, albeit gentle and subtle. The waves comparison to
silk pajamas creates a lazy image of luxury, implying that
with the threat of his wifes expectations currently diffused,
he can return once again to his preferred mode of languid
coasting. The story concludes with the narrator lost in his
daydream, stretched out (a phrase used earlier to describe
the shotgun) awaiting the rising tide. This could either
represent the superior power of nature and his trust in it to
direct him to his rightful place, or a potentially ominous
symbol of pending danger.
5. Narrative Technique (inc. Voice and Style)
Murakamis choice of 1
st
person narrative is interesting as he
employs the perspective of a character who is unable (or
unwilling) to give an honest account of his thoughts and
feelings. He is an unreliable narrator, in that where one would
ordinarily expect a 1
st
person narrative to convey the true view
of that character on the events they convey, The Husband shares
little more with us than he does with his wife. His character is
left deliberately vague and he only refers in depth to his
feelings about his marriage in a detached way, using the
recurring cinematic image.
The perpetually distant narrators tone of uncertainty is
frustrating to the reader and successfully reflects the
aggravation which his wife would feel towards him.
It is also relevant to point out the use of flashback, as what
appears to be a fairly happy ending is not truly the conclusion
of the story.
I'm still not sure I made the right choice when I told my wife
about the bakery attack.
The opening sentence of the story hints that the bakery attack
has not successfully lifted the curse or helped the couples
marriage to function better. If it had, surely we would expect
him to be definite that he made the right choice.
6. Theme
Destiny:
I myself have adopted the position that, in fact, we never
choose anything at all. Things happen. Or not.
The Husband claims to believe it is impossible to direct
yourself away from the path which is mapped out of ahead of you.
However, this could also simply be an excuse for his inaction
and lack of motivation. This hypothesis seems especially likely
given that, in his own words, he has adopted the position
rather than necessarily believing that it is true.
In contrast, his wife believes that ones destiny can be
shaped, and indeed, that it is also possible for others to shape
it for you. There is a clear sense at various points in the
story that she is even satisfied by the knowledge that she
moulds him: "Well, you're working now, aren't you?"
Karma:
...we had this feeling that we had made a terrible mistake.
And somehow, this mistake has just stayed there, unresolved,
casting a dark shadow on our lives.
The narrator and his erstwhile friend took the baker up on his
deal and benefitted in the short term, but the sense that he has
cursed them has outlasted the temporary satisfaction of the free
bread. Murakamis implication is that nothing is free insofar
as nothing is without consequence and that our actions towards
others ultimately ricochet back towards us,
Commitment:
You have to finish what you left unfinished."
Just as she is committed to sourcing food to satisfy their
hunger, she is dedicated to extinguishing her husbands curse.
Where he would be inclined to leave the heavy, dusty curtain
hanging over them for the rest of their lives, she becomes
overtaken by the necessity to attempt to lift it immediately.
Of course, one of the fatal flaws in her attempt to lift the
curse is that she takes control, which means that is she and not
her husband who is finishing what he left unfinished.