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Love and Loneliness using Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami Essay

Humans are probably the greediest animals that have walked on the face of earth. There is always a want to achieve something greater than what one has. This might be a positive force on one hand, but on the other it can leave someone completely unsatisfied and unhappy with their life. One of the things out of the many which humans strive to look for in their life is love. Love, a recurring theme in novels, movies, music, poetry, drama and what not, is hard to escape from.

Whether it is motherly, friendly or romantic love, we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. But does love actually exist? If we look at this question from Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart’s point of view, the answer would be no. Even though love is a major part of the book, there is not a single moment where two people are in love with each other. All the characters of the book have had some experience with love, but in the end all of them are managing their own lives all by themselves. The book strongly hints the nonexistence of love and the loneliness caused by it. The best way to know as to what exactly love is, is to look inside our own self. If we claim to “feel” it, something must be going on inside our bodies to give us that sense of falling or being in love. Firstly, “it’s your brain, not your heart, that falls in love” (Myers’, 51).

It is evident from many scientific and psychological experiments that “human romantic love is associated with dopaminergic pathways in the brain” (Fisher, Aron, Brown, 2175). So when Sumire, a lesbian in the book Sputnik Sweetheart, “fell in love, as if she was crossing a field when bang! a bolt of lightning zapped her right in the head,” the real culprits were something known as neurotransmitters and hormones which are, in simple words, chemicals in our body that control us (Murakami, 9). Sumire was in the “lust phase” and most probably under the influence of the hormones called testosterone and oestrogen.

“These hormones as Helen Fisher says ‘get you out looking for anything’” (“The Science of Love”). The second phase or the “truly love struck phase” is seen in the book when Sumire cannot escape from the thoughts of Miu (“The science of love”). “That’s the ballpoint pen she uses; the mug she drinks coffee from” (Murakami, 50). One cannot blame Sumire for being so sappy as she has no control over the dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine levels in her body. These chemicals are responsible for the “cloud-nine feeling”, and the loss of appetite, sleep and concentration when one is in love. This is seen in Sumire’s case too when every single time she sat down to start writing something “no matter how much she stared at the screen, not a single sentence came to her” (Murakami, 36).

Heart racing, flushed cheeks, butterflies in the stomach, these all the signs of being in “love”, but it is not love, it is just chemicals in our bodies making us feel that way. Very closely tied to the brain is our mental psych and genetic makeup and it can help explain the complex topic of love well. The main objective of animals and plants on this earth is to make more of their kind so that their genes are passed on, have a better chance of surviving in the future, and can compete against others genes. Like any other animal, humans are predisposed to this kind of behaviour too. In Sputnik Sweetheart K, the narrator and Sumire’s best friend, is in love with Sumire who is a lesbian and hence cannot reciprocate his love. Even though K knows Sumire is the one he has true feelings for, his body seeks sex.

This makes him “sleep around” with other women on a daily basis. Though “these little flings never aroused much passion in [him]; they were, at most a kind of comfort” for his body (Murakami, 64). According to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sex is considered as important as air, sleep, food and shelter (Myers’, 331). It is one of the basic needs in life regardless of any emotional connection to the other person. Also, all the women who K had physical relationships with were “older and either were married or had fiancés or steady boyfriends”.

Psychology can explain even this as “men are most attracted to women who were at ages associated with peak fertility and thus teen boys are most excited by a woman several years older than themselves.” (Myers’, 106). When it comes to attraction every small factor like skin, smell and body shape play a huge role in deciding whether a woman is good to mate with or not (Myers’, 106). All these behaviours are a result of a phenomenon known as natural selection where “nature selects behaviours that increase the likelihood of sending one’s gene into the future” (Myers’, 106). So in the end, it is not us who get to decide who we will pair up with and have children with, but it is our genes that get to choose.

How can love exist when we do not even get to choose the person we get attracted to? After looking at the scientific explanations of love, it is important to know how philosophy describes it to get an overall idea of what love is. Kierkegaard, an existentialist philosopher believes only “Christian love” is true and “all other love, whether humanly speaking it withers early and is altered or lovingly preserves itself for a round of time—such love is still transient; it merely blossoms. This is precisely its weakness and tragedy, whether it blossoms for an hour or for seventy years—it merely blossoms.” (25).

There is no sense of any kind of God in the book Sputnik Sweetheart, so there is no possibility of “Christian love” which Kierkegaard seems to support. The only kind of love seen in the book is either friendly or erotic love. But what he said about other kind of love, like Eros, seems to be very true since there is not a single moment where two people truly love each other and show it; the love people have for each other never really “blossoms”.

Kierkegaard in his “Work of love” clearly states that there is no love if it bears no fruit and in the book, there is no “fruit”, only loneliness which can be considered as the opposite of something fruitful (28). When Miu rejects Sumires love, Sumire disappears from everyone’s lives, which was very painful for K as well as Miu. And when she comes back to K she admits how she feels and says “I think I cut something’s throat”. One cannot say if she meant it literally or not, but even if she said it metaphorically, she must feel extremely dreadful to say something like that. Secondly, love makes one completely dependent on someone else. When Sumire leaves everyone without any proper explanation K admits, “She [Sumire] helped me forget the undertone of loneliness in my life”.

His love for Sumire is making him completely dependent when throughout the book it is shown how much she who is dependent on him. Love has turned the tables for him and now he is the one who is weak and vulnerable. And anyway, there is no point of loving someone if it keeps making one feel more and more alone. It is impossible to see the good part love plays as there is none. And as Kierkegaard said, love does not exist if it does not bear any fruits. If one was asked to summarise the story line of Sputnik Sweetheart it would be something like this; K, the narrator, loves Sumire, but Sumire realises she is lesbian when she falls for Miu, a married woman 17 years elder to Sumire, and hence she cannot love K back. But due to an extraordinary incident, Miu has lost all sexual desires and so cannot reciprocate Sumire’s love.

So after disappearing “like smoke” for a few days, Sumire comes back to K to give their love a try even though she knows she is a lesbian (Murakami, 103). It is easy to pick out that there is a constant search for love in Sumire’s life. “In the spring of her twenty-second year, Sumire fell in love for the first time in her life.” (Murakami, 5). Even though “in high school she had a few boyfriends, guys she’d go to the cinema with, go swimming with”, she took 22 years long to find the “right person” to fall in love with, and when she finally did, it was someone she could not get (Murakami, 11). If it was something other than love, one would have long given up on it. It is called learned helplessness in psychology.

But, Sumire did not stop from trying to find love all over again and she came back to K. Love clearly seems to be a purpose in life for some people. But what is the purpose of life? There is a point in the book where K realises and says, “I’d have to survive on my own.” (Murakami, 187) However much we, as humans, feel that we are living for a purpose and there are people who care and love, the truth is that we are all by ourselves.

K realises it, even though it is quite far into the book, but he does in, and in a rather painful way. Sputnik Sweetheart, the name of the book itself, suggests loneliness as it refers to Sputnik II, the Soviet satellite which was launched into space with the dog Laika, the first living being to go into space which died barking of hunger. It gives a picture of “the dark, lustrous eyes of the dog gazing out of the tiny window” into the empty space all alone (Murakami, 10).

What is it about love that makes humans so desperate for it? Biology and psychology clearly explain that it is just how our bodies are made and how the animal kingdom functions. Also, according to Kierkegaard, erotic, romantic, friendly or philia love is just temporary and never develops fully. It is also seen that being in love never has a positive outcome and from what Kierkegaard said love does not exist if it does not produce something useful. So why is it that we keep seeking love? Are we just lonely and anxious to find something more than life itself? Is it that we are lonely and by ourselves in this world, and hence cannot love, or is it that we cannot love that is why we are lonely? Either way, there is no love, but only loneliness.

Work Cited
“The Science of Love.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 14 May 2013. Myers, David G. Myers’ Psychology for AP. New York, NY: Worth, 2011. Print. Helen E. Fisher, Arthur Aron and Lucy L. Brown Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences , Vol. 361, No. 1476, The Neurobiology of Social Recognition, Attraction and Bonding (Dec. 29, 2006), pp. 2173-2186

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