The unnamed narrator of “Elephant” is supporting his whole family. His brother got laid off, and now he needs money or he’s going to lose his house. The narrator’s mother needs a check every month because she’s too old to work. His children aren’t doing well either: his daughter has a deadbeat husband who refuses to work, and his son accrued a huge amount of debt while in college. Finally, the narrator must pay alimony to his ex-wife every month. That’s five people.
The narrator works tirelessly to make enough money to support his family. He’s exhausted when he gets home from work, and he has to give up things he enjoys doing in order to save money; he no longer goes out to eat or to the theater to see a movie. He begins to resent his family for the financial strain they place on him, and he fantasizes about moving to Australia to escape.
One night, the narrator has a dream about his father, whom he hasn’t thought about in a long time. In the dream, the narrator is a child again, and he’s riding on top of his father’s shoulders. His father has a firm grip around his ankles and makes him feel supported; the narrator imagines that he’s riding an elephant and holds his arms up on either side. The narrator wakes up, then falls back asleep and has a second dream. He relives a time when he drunkenly kicked in the window of his son’s car, and then threatened to kill him. He wakes up in a cold sweat and reflects that drinking alcohol is the thing that scares him most—it was rock bottom.
The narrator decides to walk to work that morning. As he walks, he no longer thinks of his family only in terms of the money that they owe him; rather, he rediscovers the love that he has for each of them and wishes them well. He realizes that his place is here, supporting his family—moving to Australia was a ridiculous idea.
One of his coworkers sees the narrator on the road and stops to pick him up. The coworker has just borrowed money from the bank to overhaul his car. The narrator tells the coworker to drive faster—he wants to see what this car can do. They speed off together, toward the mountains, in that big unpaid-for car.