Did the Elephant really Vanish? A response to “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami

“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” (327).

In “The Elephant Vanishes” Haruki Murakami illustrates a contrast between unity and disorder. In his little town in Tokyo, the community members seem to be in constant disagreement. First, it was a disagreement about if the old elephant should even be kept. Then, it was a disagreement about where the elephant should be kept. Finally, once the elephant “vanished”, some townspeople blamed the Mayor, “As they had the year before, the opposition-party members of the town council made accusations” (316). Evidently, this town is constantly split into opposition with each other, maybe even on some accounts, they are polarized. Therefore the elephant “vanishing” may be a sign of the town’s inability to compromise, leaving them with an even larger problem.

Murakami takes such a deep interest in this elephant vanishing because he can see the unity between the elephant and keeper that isn’t evident in the town. Additionally, the unity that isn’t present in his own life. Although he seems to be a very structured person – having the same morning routine every day and reading the newspaper in chronological order – he uses these things that he can control to be structured. He admires the elephant and keeper’s relationship, “I had the feeling that to some extent the difference between them had shrunk” (325).

Ultimately, the question appears to be, did the elephant actually vanish or was this an alternate reality that the narrator wanted from his own life? It’s hard to tell from just the writing in the story because it never clearly states what actually happened to the elephant. I believe based on the evidence presented above, that the narrator saw the “elephant and the keeper become balanced” to signify something he deeply longed for in his life. Whether or not the elephant vanished, he saw something in their relationship that made him long for the same thing: unity and recognition of both sides. I think the narrator wanted his town to recognize where others were coming from and open up to the possibility of compromise.

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