"That backpack's like your symbol of freedom," he comments.
"Guess so," I say.
"Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents."
"Sometimes," I say.
"Sometimes," he repeats. "You know, if they had a contest for the world's shortest replies, you'd win hands down."
"Perhaps," Oshima says, as if fed up. "Perhaps most people in the world aren't trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It's all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind. You'd better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.
"Yeah. I prefer being unfree, too. Up to a point. Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences. A very perceptive observation. And it's true -- all civilization is the product of a fenced-in lack of freedom. The Australian Aborigines are the exception, though. They managed to maintain a fenceless civilization until the seventeenth century. They're dyed-in-the-wool free. They go where they want, when they want, doing what they want. Their lives are a literal journey. Walkabout is a perfect metaphor for their lives. When the English came and built fences to pen in their cattle, the Aborigines couldn't fathom it. And, ignorant to the end of the principle at work, they were classified as dangerous and antisocial and were driven away, to the outback. So I want you to be careful. The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best. You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself."
Excerpt from Kafka on the Shore
by Haruki Murakami
I quoted this entire passage because there are several things that I enjoy in it.
For one thing, I can relate to the backpack metaphor. I used to carry a backpack with me everywhere, even to work each day. And it was a symbol of freedom. I felt that I could go anywhere as long as I had the few things that I carried within it: notepads and pens, a camera, and a book to read. But going "anywhere" mostly meant being able to escape -- to go off on my own somewhere and read or write. That kind of freedom felt comfortable. So maybe in that sense, freedom was a safety net.
Another thing I can relate to is the making of short replies. I've previously noted how often my quietness has been mentioned. In the past, other words have been used to describe me, as well, among them "monosyllabic". I used words sparingly because I didn't think anything more was necessary, and I didn't know what else there was to say. Being terse wasn't always my way of cutting conversations short. It was just my way of being direct and straightforward. It took a while for me to realize that others wanted a little more in order to feel that I was engaged and interested. Giving extra is something that I'm still learning to do.
There's also the idea of fences that I can relate to. Sometimes I wonder if being introverted is just another way of building fences. I know that a lot of people see it that way; I've been accused of walling off the rest of the world, or of walling myself in. Personally, I prefer my own interpretation; I'm certainly not committed to anyone else's perspective. In this case, I'm not sure whether there's more freedom in the outside world or my inner world. I'm not sure which is wilder, and which is safer. I think it's different for each of us. We all build fences in different ways, and we all find freedom in our own ways, too. I have a fence, of course, but not in the way that others see it. I think of it like this: there's only room for a small community in my world, and so I'm naturally more exclusive. I admire those who can include everyone, but that's not the case for me. While I love to explore and to be free, I often feel the freest when I'm lost in my own head. So, for me, perhaps fencing myself off from the "wilderness" would mean not letting myself escape to the inside.
Finally, I can relate to melting into the scenery, and to acting natural so as not to be noticed. Acting "natural" really means acting unnatural, though. It means acting like everyone else, because that's the surest way to go unnoticed. It's another kind of freedom.
The line between fences and freedom isn't always clear. What matters in the end, I think, is how we define these things for ourselves.