A different lens. Perspective, and a giant elephant.

From a normal book/story perspective, The Elephant Vanishes is a good story. It does everything right and hits all hallmarks of an average story. It keeps you engaged, is cohesive, has very presentable and digestible themes, and has a natural logical conclusion (rhetorically wise, it ends with an event that drives a pragmatic person insane). But one thing is different about this story, something stands out, something doesn’t fit in. Perspective.

A story about an elephant and his keeper has a shockingly low amount of dialogue from the elephant and his keeper, it actually has no amount of dialogue directly from these characters. Murakami took a different approach to the telling and perspective of the narrative of this story when he went about writing it. Instead of having the reader come to know, relate, and eventually understand the elephant and the keeper, both individually and their relationship to one another, via dialogue, interactions with themselves, and other characters, it was done entirely through indirect characterization. The narrator is an unnamed man who we come to learn about and understand through traditional methods (direct characterization), everything we know about the keeper and elephant is through the lens of this man. We learn about how the narrator thinks, how he acts, how he lives, and how he adapts. He remarks upon himself at the end of the story commenting on how he has made his company a lot of money because of him, showing he is adept at anticipating and accommodating the ever-evolving needs of the consumer base we know he has 0 relations to. When asked how he feels about his work he mentions that he has a personal and professional opinion. He mentions that in his professional opinion he believes that each kitchen should have a certain unity, and his personal opinion is that he doesn’t really care. To him, a kitchen is a kitchen and it really doesn’t need more than the basic essentials to function. Not only does this display his pragmatism, it also shows that despite not being emotionally invested or relating any way to his work, but he can also still put himself in the place of the consumers and anticipate what they would want. He is a man who is incredibly capable of adapting to his current environment, he logically dissects his situation and responds appropriately. Another way we are shown how he thinks and approaches situations is in his conversation with the unnamed woman he meets at a party. He is very aware of the situation he is in and is acutely aware that the topic would immediately end all real conversations or chemistry they had. Murakami characterized the narrator as someone who is adaptable, pragmatic, obsessive, and aware. This is the lens through which the story is told, and the lens through which this story is taken to a new level.

A story about an elephant and zoo keeper vanishing is not an entirely new, inventive, groundbreaking, or particularly interesting topic. However, the perspective of the story makes it such. We get to see how this event unfolds through the lens of someone we have come to know and have a good grasp on their character. It deeply disturbs him as it is something that cannot be logically explained. It started as something that he would take a bit of his time out of in the morning to keep track of, or an interesting topic to read and ponder about to something that is actively intruding into his personal life and has introduced a chaotic imbalance into his life. When discussing the elephant with the woman at the party, he talks about him glimpsing the elephant shrinking and the keeper enlarging. The woman is perplexed but can fathom this, the narrator, however, trusts what he sees but is disturbed by it. He saw something that could not, should not, and would not have normally happened. And he tries, but ultimately fails to grasp it, and it shows in how he comments on how he doesn’t think he can trust his own perceptions anymore. His sense of normality and comfort in his surrounding has been replaced with a sense of uneasiness and imbalance. And this is where we see the true impact of the elephant vanishes. We as the reader cannot truly fathom the premise of the story, it’s not something we can relate to in any way shape, or form. But through the characterization and progression of the story through the narrative element of the unnamed narrator, we can see the actual effects of the story. Transforming a decent story and premise into a masterclass on how to change a story through perspective.

One thought on “A different lens. Perspective, and a giant elephant.

  1. Ben Koritz

    I really like your discussion of perspective. With further thought, it almost makes me feel like I am reading a mystery book from the wrong perspective. Rather than a regular old appliance salesman it almost seems like someone more “special” should have seen such a fantastical disappearance. This is what causes, at least with me, the seemingly purposeful disappointment at the end of the story. Both the set-up and plot are fascinating and the end of the story just being “they are still missing and everybody forgot about it” is super anti-climatic. In effect, this really throws the reader off and almost re-evaluates the entire “hero’s journey”.


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