The antagonist who is not a villain

One of the best reasons to read widely is to encounter things both outside of your cultural framework and your expectations.

Kafka on the Shore is one of my favorite novels. Murakami’s protagonist, Kafka, doesn’t have a conflict with the story’s antagonist, who is the delightful and talented Miss Saeki. She did something in her youth that set off all that is wrong in the story. Kafka doesn’t need to put it right, no, his challenge is not to be sucked into destruction when what she did is put right by Hoshino, a random truck driver who befriends Nakata, who dies trying to put right what Miss Saeki broke when she was younger.
She doesn’t try to stop them.
In fact, she is glad when things are set right, though that means she will die.
Kafka surreally kills his father in a dream, fulfilling a prophecy. He then finds refuge with Miss Saeki, and becomes her lover. He hadn’t wanted to kill his father, in fact, he had run away to avoid it. Miss Saeki hadn’t wanted to break reality, but it is that brokenness that impacts all of the other characters within the novel, and she dies when reality is put right. In her dying, she works to make certain that Kafka, who loves her, doesn’t die with her.
There is, within the novel, another character who could serve as an antagonist. That is Johnny Walker, the name a spirit gives himself. This spirit is a cat killer who wants Nakata to kill him before he kills another cat. When Nakata kills Johnny Walker, Kafka’s father dies.
Both antagonists want to be over come. They want balance and rightness restored to reality. It is Nakata who overcomes both, and in doing so dies from the struggle. Yet it is not his story, as he doesn’t grow or change, he is just the agent of change.
The protagonist is Kafka, who must overcome grief and loss and find a way back into the world he fled to try to prevent the very grief and loss that he must endure.
I prefer an antagonist who is not a villain. So much more human. So much more real.

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