A Capitalist Commentary on The Elephant Vanishes

“The most important point is unity..even the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings. (37)”

This short story opens with an unraveling investigation of a town’s elephant. The townspeople, or pupils, as the narrator describes them, aren’t too affected by the disappearance since they didn’t value the elephant’s presence anyways. The noun choice of “pupils” symbolizes how the citizens aren’t a community, but rather a collective. They organize for the sake of self-interest. Specifically, they keep the elephant after learning the town would gain full possession of the elephant’s land after it dies. I recognized the irony in the pupils only reaching an agreement once money was involved, and they tolerated the elephant in exchange for it. We know that this elephant is old, and it’s hardly a threatening creature. And although it wasn’t neglected by the townspeople, it surely wasn’t valued as a product of nature. I found it interesting how the short story highlighted the main idea that things we can profit from are only tolerated when they remain useful, and the dynamic shifts once this is no longer the case.

The reference the narrator makes to unity and balance is extended throughout the second half of the text. He uses this anecdote as a selling point for his job, but it also connects to the idea that When that respect and appreciation is lost, it doesn’t foster a nurturing environment. When the townspeople became fearful, like the only lady who stated she was “..afraid to let my children out to play, (36)”, it reconstructed the balance that the town had formed with the elephant. This balance of cohabitation was changed once the elephant vanished, making it no longer relevant and susceptible to villainization by the pupils. And as the narrator leads us along the story, we learn that even these negative feelings fade and turn into indifference. No one cares about the elephant anymore. Even speculation about its whereabouts doesn’t spark action to bring the elephant back, which further demonstrates how money is the ultimate motivator in this story.

2 thoughts on “A Capitalist Commentary on The Elephant Vanishes

  1. Daniel K

    I agree, I think a big part of this story is a critique of the modern, capitalist world. I saw in the reading where the narrator mentions trade relations with America, or the soullessness of the narrator’s job


  2. Izzy N.

    I really liked how you produced an idea about money and the importance of it in this story, how greed factors into people’s decisions and how they react to situations. It is a very interesting dynamic switch once money becomes involved. I also enjoyed how you noticed the use of “Pupils” in the story. “The noun choice of ‘pupils’ symbolizes how the citizens aren’t a community, but rather a collective.” Your interpretation of why this word was used is interesting.


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