The Elephant Vanishes

by

Haruki Murakami

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The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe Character Analysis

An elderly zookeeper who took care of the elephant for many years at the zoo and continues to live with and care for the animal after it is transferred to the town’s makeshift elephant house. Having worked with mammals for decades, he is “abundantly knowledgeable” about elephants and has a “warm sincere personality.” Watanabe vanishes along with the elephant yet is not mentioned in the title; despite this, he is the only character in the story whose full name, Noboru Watanabe, is ever referenced. The zookeeper bears an uncanny resemblance to the decrepit elephant under his care—he possesses the same leathery skin, protruding ears, small eyes, and short, bristly hair. Also like the elephant, the keeper is generally ignored and ostracized by the townspeople. He is a withdrawn, lonely man who, like the narrator, does not form close relationships with other members of the community. The zookeeper’s only close friend is the elephant, with whom he shares a complex system of communication based on taps, commands, and nonverbal cues. Before the elephant and keeper vanish, the narrator is mesmerized by this bond between the two and enjoys watching the warm affection between the pair in private.

The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe Quotes in The Elephant Vanishes

The The Elephant Vanishes quotes below are all either spoken by The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe or refer to The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe. 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:
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Elephant Vanishes published in 1994.
The Elephant Vanishes Quotes

On its right rear leg, the elephant wore a solid, heavy-looking steel cuff from which there stretched a thick chain perhaps thirty feet long, and this in turn was securely fastened to a concrete slab. Anyone could see what a sturdy anchor held the beast in place: The elephant could have struggled with all its might for a hundred years and never broken the thing.

Related Symbols: The Shackle
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:

It seemed that people were beginning to shove the elephant case into the large category of “unsolvable mysteries.” The disappearance of one old elephant and one old elephant keeper would have no impact on the course of society. […] Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever. And so a number of unremarkable months went by, like a tired army marching past a window.

Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

What struck me immediately when I saw the elephant and keeper alone together was the obvious liking they had for each other—something they never displayed when they were out before the public. Their affection was evident in every gesture. It almost seemed as if they stored away their emotions during the day, taking care not to let anyone notice them, and took them out at night when they could be alone.

Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:

It was a mysterious sight. Looking through the vent, I had the feeling that a different, chilling kind of time was flowing through the elephant house—but nowhere else. And it seemed to me, too, that the elephant and the keeper were gladly giving themselves over to this new order that was trying to envelop them—or that had already partially succeeded in enveloping them.

Page Number: 325-326
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe Character Timeline in The Elephant Vanishes

The timeline below shows where the character The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe appears in The Elephant Vanishes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Elephant Vanishes
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
...headline “Elephant Missing in Tokyo Suburb,” detailing the mysterious disappearance of the elephant and its keeper. The narrator remembers the photo included with the article of a policeman inspecting the empty... (full context)
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
...from the school lunch company who delivered leftover scraps for the elephant to eat. The zookeeper who cared for the elephant was also missing, and the shackle that had been locked... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
...provide land to house the elephant, and the zoo’s former owners will pay the elephant keeper’s wages. (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
The elderly zookeeper, who bears a striking physical resemblance to the elephant, lives in a small room attached... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
...the town takes ownership of the elephant, a year passes before the animal and its keeper vanish. The narrator is captivated by the mysterious circumstances and comparatively shallow media coverage of... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
In late September, about four months after the elephant and keeper vanished, the narrator recalls a misty night during which he feels that the rain is... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
...a vent opening and enjoyed occasionally visiting this spot to observe the elephant and its keeper. The narrator reflects on the deep friendship the two old creatures shared and how they... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
...the disappearance), he observed a sudden difference in the appearances of the elephant and its keeper. From his perspective, the balance between the two creatures had seemed to change—the physical size... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
...has fundamentally shifted after the mysterious size change and disappearance of the elephant and its keeper. (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
...that the media and the townspeople seem to have forgotten about the elephant and its keeper, that the two have vanished completely, and that they are never coming back. (full context)