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The Elephant Vanishes

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 8 months ago

The Elephant Vanishes


November 12, 2007


  • Summary

  • The Narrator's Obsessive Personality

  • The Elephant & the Zoo Keeper's Relationship

  • The Girl

  • The Narrator's Obsession with Unity






    The story starts off as the main character finding out that the elephant disappeared through reading the newspaper.  The elephant was adopted by the town when the private zoo was shut down and it didn't have anywhere to go.  The elephant keeper lived by a small room by the elephant house.  Around this time was when the narrator started to keep a scrapbook on the news of the elephant.  A year later, the elephant vanishes along with the keeper Noboru Watanabe.  The last sighting of both was the day before when several students from an elementary school came to draw sketches of the elephant.  There was nothing unusual between both the elephant and the keeper the day before.  This seems very impossible.


    First of all, the steel lock that had been fastened around the elephant's leg is still locked.  The two keys that existed were at the police headquarters and the firehouse, and the keeper didn't own a key.  Secondly, there is no route of escape.  A ten feet high fence and heavy iron bars surround it.  Thirdly, there were no elephant tracks, which would've been left, especially on the soft ground.  Months pass by and there's still no evidence; the people of the town eventually go on with their lives.


    In September, the main character meets a girl of interest.  They discuss about their jobs, "kit-chins," unity; and he eventually opens up to her about the elephant's disappearance.  He confesses how he was probably the last one to see the elephant - after they closed the house.  At the top of a cliff behind the elephant house, the narrator observed the elephant from time to time. He tells her that on that day, he believes that he saw the elephant and the keeper's balance started to shift.  Either the elephant started shrinking or the keeper had gotten bigger.  Or both.  The girl mentions how her cat disappeared once, but he refuses to accept it as the same. That's the last he sees of the girl.


    The story ends as the main character continuing to work in sales (selling refridgerators, toaster ovens, coffee makers, etc).  He however, mentions how things around him has lost its balance.  The town seems to have forgotten the existance of an elephant.  The narrator ends with this quote, "The elephant and keeper have vanished completely.  They will never be coming back."





Why is the narrator obsessed with the elephant?



            How do we know he is obsessed with the elephant?


  • The narrator makes his obsession with the elephant clear by keeping a scrapbook of every elephant related newspaper article.  He also attended city council meetings to watch debates over whether or not the town should have an elephant, and once the elephant had been moved to its house he visited it every chance he got. 
  • Even though he had quit smoking three years previously, he started again after the elephant vanished.
  • He shows his feeling of loss after the elephant vanishes by saying that its home had “an air of doom and desolation that hung there like a huge, oppressive rain cloud.”
  • He also thinks about the elephant in very dramatic terms, saying that the topic is “too complete, too closed” to be talked about.


            So back to the original question: Why is he obsessed with the elephant?


  • The size and oddity of an elephant makes them captivating to most people.  They are out of place in Japan and very large, so the elephant may trigger his other obsession with balance and unity to cause his elephant obsession.
  • The elephant is lonely and bored, so on some level the narrator may identify with him.
  • The elephant is also a break from the monotony of life.  The rest of the story gives evidence of this idea.  Everything in the narrator’s life is rhythmic, organized and repetitive.  After the elephant leaves his explains that,




The earth would continue its monotonous rotations, politicians would continue issuing unreliable proclamations, people would continue yawning on their way to the office, children would continue studying for their college-entrance exams.  Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever.  And so a number of unremarkable months went by, like a tired army marching past a window.



When the elephant disappears, his sense of balance and unity disappears with it.  His obsession with order is destroyed and he lives by habit, using memories of the “pragmatic world” to guide him even though he no longer feels himself to be a part of it.  The elephant and its keeper (another Noboru Watanabe) had become the focal point of his obsession with unity and when he saw the balance between them change, it changed the balance within him.





The Relationship with the Elephant and the Keeper


The Elephant and the Keeper in this story have a very special relationship. Its like they can communicate with each other without using any words, but by taps an the leg from the keeper. The keeper is a very old man who seems to be in his own little world with the elephant. He isn’t very talkative but is kind when he is spoken to. Both of them seem to be just existing and nothing else in their life is really going on. 


The story states that the elephant is a very old and most elephants live to be between 70 and 80 years old. Therefore the keeper and elephant were probably paired together for at least 30 to 40 years.


It is also reported about 3 to 4 deaths per year that are elephant-keeper related. Most of these accidents are caused by miscommunication.  This is important because after all this time that they spent together the elephant never tried to harm the keeper that we know of.


Its obvious that the Keeper and elephant were more than just partners in a sense. It seemed like whatever one would do the other was right behind. It seemed only right that if the elephant would vanish so would the keeper and vice versa. Nobody knows what happened to them so their can be a lot of speculation.




The Girl


  • "I met her near the end of September."
  • unity and 'kit-chens'
  • cocktails and small talk
  • the elephant and balance
  • conversation killer



The Narrator & Unity

Murakami’s Conclusion: Balance vs. Unity

-unlike most of his stories, “The Elephant Vanishes” offers a final conclusion:

“I often get the feeling that things around me have lost their proper balance, though it could be that my perceptions are playing tricks on me. Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair, and maybe that causes external phenomena to strike my eye in a strange way.

                “I continue to sell refrigerators and toaster ovens and coffeemakers  in the pragmatic world, based on afterimages of memories I retain from that world. The more pragmatic I try to become, the more successfully I sell—our campaign has succeeded beyond our most optimistic forecasts—and the more people I succeed in selling myself to.  That’s probably because people are looking for a kind of unity in this kit-chin we know as the world.  Unity of design. Unity of color.  Unity of function.” (327)

-balance and unity are not interchangeable

-“balance” refers more to a sense of the natural order of things

-the narrator describes the “balance” between the elephant and his keeper as changing. He will not state that the elephant was shrinking or the keeper was growing, but will only state that the “difference between them had shrunk.” (325)

-this suggests that the vanishing of the elephant (and his keeper) is connected to a homogenization- if everything is similar and “unified” then nothing is distinctive or unique.

-the elephant and his keeper disappear just when the townspeople have fully integrated the elephant into their day-to-day existence, and he is no longer an oddity.

-the narrator, at the end, recognizes that most people are looking for unity, and he is able to manipulate them using this awareness, even though he feels wholly disconnected from this way of thinking.




 Elephant & Keeper



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