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Murakami brilliantly captures the complexities of human happiness and suffrage in his story “The Elephant Vanishes.” The way in which the narrator reveals his obsession with the elephant and its caretaker is nuanced and eloquently told. As the narrator tries to make sense of the vanishing elephant and caretaker, and their relationship to each other, he discovers a part of himself that is also exceedingly complicated and mysterious.

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. (460)

The narrator reveals his obsession with the town’s elephant immediately in the story. He describes in depth how his world revolves around the elephant and states how “The elephant could become the town’s symbol.” (455) When the elephant disappears, the narrator feels as though the town has unfavorably changed, “Without the elephant, something about the place seemed wrong. It looked bigger than it needed to be, blank and empty…” (453)  The narrator seems to fill his time reading about the missing elephant in order to fill his own “blank and empty” void. (453)  He is a salesman who doesn’t find purpose or reward in his work. “And in this pragmatic world of ours, things you can’t sell don’t count for much.” (460) He is depressed due to the lack of diversity, passion, and adventure in his life, so he becomes intrigued to the point of obsession, and travels everyday to see the elephant. He is so fixated on the thought of the vanishing elephant, that he decides to bring up the subject while talking with a woman whom he has a romantic interest with. “I knew that I had brought up one of the least suitable topics I could have found for this occasion. No, I should never have mentioned the elephant.” (461)

The disappearance of the elephant along with its caretaker suggest that the two are linked spiritually, “you could sense their closeness in every gesture and look… Or possibly it had some special power resembling mental telepathy and could read the keeper’s mind.” (456) The narrator describes the caretaker and the elephant’s physical features very similarly: old, wrinkled, hair “stiff and short” (456), and the uncanny resemblance of their big ears. The narrator goes on to exclaim that the last time he visits the elephant house, he “had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk.” (464) This metaphor parallels with the narrator’s idea of unity. The caretaker and the elephant are both very old, and it seems as though this distance closing between them represents their lives coming to an end, as they pass from this life to the next, together and as one.

The description in this story is beautiful! The way in which the narrator describes the atmosphere of the town as a place of “doom and desolation that hung there like a huge, oppressive raincloud” (459) seems to serve as a visual representation for the depression he feels about the part of himself that is lost when the elephant disappears.

Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair…It’s probably something in me. (465)

The abrupt disappearance of the elephant and its caretaker unsettles the narrator, and causes him to escalate further into his depression, and possibly sparks the beginnings of insanity. “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.” (465) He slips into a deep sadness, “washing away bit by bit the memories of summer burned into the earth. Coursing down the gutters, all those memories flowed into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.” (459)

I’m left wondering, is it his own insanity that has causes him to imagine the entire situation involving the elephant and the caretaker? Is he aware of his mental instability, thus causing him to feel “incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing [something] and not doing [something]?” (465)

One Response to “Analysis of Subconscious Attachment in Haruki Murakami’s “The Elephant Vanishes””

  1. Excellent, Annabella. The writing here is very strong.

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