Elephant

by

Raymond Carver

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The story’s unnamed narrator is a working-class man with an unspecified factory job. He works very hard, lives alone, and he’s always sending checks to his mother, ex-wife, daughter, son, and brother, who can’t afford to pay their bills without his help. At first, it’s not clear why the narrator feels obligated to support them, but the narrator used to be a volent alcoholic, and it’s likely that his drinking alienated his family, causing his wife to divorce him and his children to move in with her. Therefore, the narrator seems to see financially supporting his family as a way to make amends. Nonetheless, he still sends the money begrudgingly, resenting his burdensome family and lamenting the things he can’t afford to do for himself, like see a movie or fix his shoes. But the narrator has a change of heart after he has two dreams based on memories from his past: one in which he’s on his father’s shoulders, and another in which he drunkenly threatens his son. The dream of his father makes him realize how good it feels to be supported (and therefore the good he’s doing for his family by giving them money), and the dream of his son reminds him that he, too, has had low points. After waking from these dreams, the narrator’s attitude shifts: suddenly he’s full of love for his family and his burdens don’t seem so heavy.

The Narrator Quotes in Elephant

The Elephant quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dependency Theme Icon
).
Elephant Quotes

He told me he’d hurt his back carrying the TV up and down the street where the pawnshops did business. He went from place to place, he said, trying to get the best offer.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Billy
Page Number: 386
Explanation and Analysis:

I got up early every morning and went to work and worked hard all day. When I came home I plopped into the big chair and just sat there. I was so tired it took me a while to unlace my shoes.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 389
Explanation and Analysis:

Once, long ago, when I used to think like a man about these things, I threatened to kill that guy. But that’s neither here nor there. Besides, I was drinking in those days.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 389
Explanation and Analysis:

But he was the first kid in the family, on either side of the family, to even want to go to college, so everybody thought it was a good idea. I thought so, too, at first. How’d I know it was going to wind up costing me an arm and a leg? He borrowed left and right from the banks to keep himself going. […]But after he'd borrowed everything he could, everything in sight, including enough to finance a junior year in Germany, I had to begin sending him money, and a lot of it. When, finally, I said I couldn’t send any more, he wrote back and said if that was the case, if that was really the way I felt, he was going to deal drugs or else rob a bank—whatever he had to do to get money to live on.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Son
Page Number: 391
Explanation and Analysis:

That’d be the big thing. It was going to require a special kind of sitter, seeing as how the hours would be long and the kids were hyper to begin with, because of all the Popsicles and Tootsie Rolls, M&M’s, and the like that they put away every day.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 393
Explanation and Analysis:

Everything in the trailer. Every stick of furniture was gone when she came home from work after her first night at the cannery. There wasn’t even a chair left for her to sit down on.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Daughter
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis:

This was a materialist society, and he simply couldn’t take it anymore. People over here, in the U.S., couldn’t hold a conversation unless money figured in it some way, and he was sick of it.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Narrator’s Son
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis:

Then I did let go. I turned loose and held my arms out to either side of me. I kept them out there like that for balance. My dad went on walking while I rode on his shoulders. I pretended he was an elephant.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Elephant
Page Number: 397
Explanation and Analysis:

Drinking that whiskey was the thing that scared me. That was the worst thing that could have happened. That was rock bottom. Compared to that, everything else was a picnic.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis:

Hell, I didn’t want to go to Australia. But once I understood this, once I understood I wouldn’t be going there—or anywhere else, for that matter—I began to feel better.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Australia
Page Number: 398
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Elephant LitChart as a printable PDF.
Elephant PDF

The Narrator Character Timeline in Elephant

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator appears in Elephant. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Elephant
Dependency Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
When the narrator’s brother, Billy, asks to borrow money, the narrator knows he should say no. But he... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
...is diabetic, and he’s been pawning his things trying to make ends meet. So the narrator sends him $500. He feels that he has to do it. (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator tells Billy to pay the money back not to him, but to their mother, who... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
...the next three months, Billy only pays her a fraction of the money, so the narrator has to keep sending her checks. When the narrator follows up with Billy, Billy says... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
Every day, the narrator works hard, comes home, and collapses into his armchair, too tired to even turn on... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
His daughter’s husband refuses to work, which enrages the narrator—he once threatened to kill his son-in-law, but that was back when the narrator was drinking.... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
The narrator’s son needs money, too. He’s in college in New Hampshire—the first in their family to... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
As his financial obligations continue to grow, the narrator takes out a loan so he can continue to send his family money. He worries... (full context)
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
Fed up with his family’s demands, the narrator fantasizes about moving to Australia. He writes his family letters in which he threatens to... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
The narrator doesn’t think his family takes his threat to move to Australia very seriously. His mother... (full context)
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
Next, the narrator gets a letter from his daughter. She knows that her dad needs a break, so... (full context)
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
The narrator’s son responds melodramatically, threatening to end his life to not be a burden on his... (full context)
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
On a beautiful day in early May, as the weather is beginning to warm, the narrator sits in his home with the windows open and radio playing. The phone rings, and... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator runs out of things to say. He stares out the window, waiting—he knows what’s about... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
The narrator reminds Billy that he never paid their mother the money that he owes her. Why... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
The narrator waits the two months to cash his brother’s check. But right before he cashes the... (full context)
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
Then, during her first night of work at the cannery, someone breaks into the narrator’s daughter’s trailer and steals all her furniture. She doesn’t even have a bed for her... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator’s son asks the narrator to pay for a plane ticket to Germany— it’s essential that... (full context)
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
The narrator does not hear from his ex-wife. They both know how things stand, so there’s no... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Money and Hardship Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother can’t afford to buy support hose or have her hair tinted. She thought that... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
One night, the narrator has a dream in which he relives a childhood memory of riding atop his father’s... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
When the narrator wakes up, he gets up to use the bathroom and decides to stay awake, since... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator falls asleep again, having another dream. This one begins with an idyllic scene of his... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility  Theme Icon
Suddenly the dream shifts, and the narrator relives a time when he drunkenly kicked in his son’s car window, then threatened to... (full context)
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
After he wakes up from his second dream the narrator sits at his kitchen table, has some coffee, and thinks about Australia. This time, however,... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
The narrator realizes that he doesn’t want to go to Australia after all—he’s comfortable where he is.... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator finishes his coffee and walks outside. He doesn’t bother to lock his door, despite what... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
The narrator decides to walk to work. Not only would he save some money on gas, but... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
The narrator’s path takes him next to the highway. He thinks about his brother and wishes him... (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
The narrator pauses in front of Smitty’s, an old, boarded-up café. He stands still and lifts his... (full context)
Drudgery vs. Escape  Theme Icon
...George is driving fast, as if they are running late, but they aren’t late. The narrator tells George that they have lots of time before they need to get to work.  (full context)
Dependency Theme Icon
George tells the narrator that he recently borrowed sone money to have his car overhauled. He speeds down the... (full context)