The Elephant Vanishes Haruki Murakami – Analysis

1133 words (5 pages) Essay in English Literature

07/06/17 English Literature Reference this

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One of the major themes in this story is the idea of things being out of balance. This theme is established when the narrator tells the editor about the importance of unison in kitchen design, as he explains that, “Even the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings.” The narrator goes on to put emphasis on balance between the environment and the creature that calls it home when he talks about witnessing the change in size of the elephant compared to its keeper. He explains that their size became equal, whether it was the keeper who grew or the elephant that shrank, or perhaps a bit of both. The narrator once again puts across the idea that “things around me have lost their proper balance” after the disappearance of the two. He is no longer able to take action on his own behalf, as he is haunted by a sense that the urban world is out of balance, and he feels that a kind of natural balance has broken down inside him.

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Linked to the theme of imbalance is the comparison between reality and appearances. The reporter that is covering the strange occurrence tries very hard to maintain the false impression that the elephant simply escaped, when the facts surrounding the whole thing points to none other than a supernatural vanishing. The narrator points out that this is indeed strange and continues to observe that all of the townspeople try to hide behind a similar guise of normality. This inconsistency between appearances and reality comes up again in the narrator’s job. He goes about his day as usual and maintains a no-nonsense professional approach even though he himself does not agree that a kitchen must have unity, or any of the other principles his company cites in order to sell the products. The narrator discovers that he cannot decide on the differences between reality and appearance, and while he questions his own perception, he suffers, once again, a sense of disorientation and confusion.

Another concern of the story is how modern development has displaced the older, more traditional ways of life. The setting is a prosperous Tokyo suburb in the 1980’s, when an economic boom was occurring in Japan. The construction of high-rise condominiums sets the events of the story in motion. These condos replace the old zoo, forcing the elephant to be relocating to a new elephant house. Thus, the keeper and his elephant become a symbol of former ways of life and sensitive relationships, which are being pushed aside by accommodation endeavors. Murakami lightly mocks the absurdity of modern life throughout the story, particularly when the narrator describes the town’s reaction to the elephant’s disappearance. The reactions of various townspeople such as the mayor, a “worried-looking” mother, the police, Self-Defense Force troops, an anchor, and the reporter show how useless and illogical conventional urban responses can be. As the narrator puts it, the newspaper articles were all “either pointless or off the mark.” Police response is ridiculous and futile. In all, the absurd public response to the bizarre situation of a misplaced elephant shows, in almost a comic way, how urban mindset fails to imagine, much less comprehend, the implausible or intuitive.

Throughout this story, the author reveals subtly that the removal of the old ways of life leaves the people feeling mixed-up. Murakami also puts emphasis on how the new ways create detachment and discomfort. For example, the narrator goes about his job as a public relations executive by abiding to the motto that “things you can’t sell don’t count for much.” In reality, he really does not believe this statement, he says it and uses it and it seems to confuse him, making him question his purpose in life. Just like some of the author’s other characters, the narrator is single, a loner, and lives by himself with no obvious connections with friends or family. Due to this, he marvels at the connection between the elephant and its keeper, their closeness to one another. Subsequent to the elephant’s disappearance, the narrator feels low, more isolated, and alone than ever.

Murakami uses the motif of water to reinforce readers’ awareness of disappearance or a sense of dissolution. The narrator, when discussing how the interest factor in the elephant’s disappearance faded after a few months had passed, states, “Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever,” thus likening daily life to the eroding action of ocean tides. The water motif occurs again several paragraphs later, when the narrator compares summer memories to water flowing “into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.” Here too the water motif conveys a sense of things disappearing inevitably into a vast ocean. Since water can evaporate into air and is inherently unstable, this motif mirrors the vanishing, parallels the idea of impermanence, and suggests the narrator’s sense of being unsettled by a world out of balance.

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Murakami instills the image of rain into the reader in order to express a sense of gloom and/or sadness. The narrator exemplifies this as he describes the now empty elephant house, “A few short months without its elephant had given the place an air of doom and desolation that hung there like a huge, oppressive rain cloud.” Afterward, when he is talking to the editor, he mentions the presence of a quiet, dam rain, once again putting forth the existence of an unrelenting, corroding, and perturbing force. Their conversation starts to take a strange course at the mention of the elephant and afterwards the narrator makes a comparison with the melting ice in the editor’s drink to a “tiny ocean current.” With this image, it is possible that Murakami again creates an ambience of things dissolving in some sinister, enveloping force.

In my opinion, Murakami did an amazing job embedding themes throughout his short story The Elephant Vanishes. He used his abstract writing to convey important societal messages like imbalance, perception, and the views of modern living. Murakami also made the story more personal by incorporating a first person stance. This single view enhanced the confusion. By using dialogue, his motifs, and his similes, Haruki Murakami kept the story enjoyable and readable, although it is sometimes hard to follow along. At the end of the story, it is difficult not to ask questions about the society portrayed in the book. I believe this is what the author was aiming for and I believe he succeeded. By asking questions about the story, the reader, in actuality, is asking questions about their own world.

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