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In “The Elephant Vanishes,” Haruki Murakami expresses depression and dissociation through the impossible disappearance of an old elephant and its keeper. The narrator, a thirty-one year old businessman, is immediately revealed to be a very precise, pragmatic, and careful man as he recounts the events leading to the disappearance of this elephant, while also acknowledging a special interest he has for the animal. The elephant itself seems to symbolize what the narrator feels, yet has something the narrator can’t maintain on his own: stability and companionship. When the elephant vanishes, so does the narrator’s stability and his connection to the world around him.

“The most important point is unity,” I explained. “Even the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings.”  (Murakami, 460)

Taking an old, neglected, elephant and placing it in an environment wildly inappropriate for this animal, Murakami creates a perfect setting for depression in both the narrator and the elephant. In doing so, this also builds common ground and point of attachment for a man who experiences the same monotony, and more easily represents the problems depression can cause to the reader. Chronic depression can be crushing and incredibly hard to explain to those who have never experienced it, resulting in a multitude of dysfunctional behaviors and thoughts which the narrator resists by clinging to a very precise routine he follows every day. The narrator is able to find in the elephant the things he feels, but can’t express without failing in his day to day life, and through this conflict he develops an attachment to the animal.

I felt like this a lot after my experience with the vanishing elephant. I would begin to think  I wanted to do something, but then I would become incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing it and not doing it… Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair… (Murakami, 465)

In the passage above, Murakami reveals how much the elephant’s presence kept the narrator active and stable—the elephant seems to represent a way for him to cope. With the elephant gone, he is unable to interact with others correctly, committing social “faux pas” and struggling to recover from perceived mistakes. Afterwards, he begins referring to reality as “the pragmatic world” as if to keep himself separate. He develops an act to blend in, saying, “The more pragmatic I try to become, the more successfully I sell… and the more people I succeed in selling myself to,” (Murakami, 465) and again stresses the importance of unity, balance, and stability; things within himself that he has lost and will never regain.

I didn’t find “The Elephant Vanishes” to be a wild or outlandish story like I was expecting. Instead, it came across as a very realistic story by portraying the ways in which depression can effect one’s perception of the world and of themselves. The actual event of the elephant’s disappearance was incredibly irrelevant, in that the details didn’t matter—only that this event seems to express what is often incredibly hard to directly explain.

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