Narrative Focus in “Cariboo Cafe” and “The Elephant Vanishes”

In ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, the reader encounters a narrator obsessed with a problem he can’t solve. An elephant has disappeared, along with its keeper. However, the keeper quickly fades from the forefront of the story and the elephant seems to be the only one missing. In ‘Cariboo Cafe’, the last narrator essentially kidnaps Macky and Sonya, but Macky is her only focus. Sonya is so far removed from the situation that she’s only referred to as “the young girl”.

  1. Sonya is to Macky what the Keeper is to the Elephant.
  2. Both narrators are kidnappers.

Let’s start with the latter. In ‘The Elephant Vanishes’, the narrator treats the disappearance as something only he cares about. The story has permeated every aspect of his life. This obsessive nature blinds him to reality. However, we as the reader barely know the reality. The narrator tells us that the disappearance is his and only his problem. To some extent, he has “kidnapped” the elephant and its keeper, denying the response of the officials and presenting his own theories. In ‘Cariboo Cafe’ the opposite structure creates a similar issue. We have multiple narrators/perspectives on the story at hand, yet there’s much still implied. At the end, the final woman has the same obsessive blinders on.

The boy she found must be her son. The elephant must have shrunk down.

Returning to my comparison, Sonya is the keeper because she is not the focus of the narrator, but is crucial to the matter at hand. The keeper looks different in comparison to the elephant, so the elephant must have shrunk. Sonya was there with Macky, her brother, yet she is not the narrator’s daughter. Macky is the elephant because he is a mystery to many. To the cafe owner, he is reminded of his own son, just as the woman from ‘Elephant’ shared a sort of excitement about the mystery.

As a reader, we should be vigilant to the narrator’s priorities as it can often tell us a lot about the characters.

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