The Elephant Vanishes

by

Haruki Murakami

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, the unnamed narrator is a 31-year-old man living in an affluent Tokyo suburb who works for the public relations department of an electrical appliance manufacturer. He has an ongoing interest in the elephant and with the remarkable friendship it shares with its keeper. This interest deepens into an obsession after the narrator becomes the last person to see the animal and its keeper before they mysteriously disappear. The narrator is the only character in the story who witnesses a bizarre shift in the size difference between the elephant and the zookeeper on the night before the disappearance. He concludes that either the elephant shrunk, the keeper grew, or both changed simultaneously. The narrator is subsequently thrown into a state of imbalance by this magical occurrence and is alienated from the townspeople in his belief that the elephant did not escape, but rather vanished completely. The narrator is also fixated on the idea of order in both his personal and professional life, maintaining strict routines (such as waking up at exactly 6:13 and reading the newspaper straight through from beginning to end) and espousing the benefits of unity in design and in life. He is completely possessed by the elephant’s disappearance and confesses what he witnessed in the elephant house to a young woman he meets at a business party in hopes of finding a sympathetic ear. But the narrator is only misunderstood, further alienated, and thrown into an internal sense of disarray after their conversation. Unlike the other characters who quickly forget about the vanishing elephant, the narrator is fundamentally and irreparably changed by the strange circumstances of the event.

The Narrator Quotes in The Elephant Vanishes

The The Elephant Vanishes 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:
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

Without the elephant, something about the place seemed wrong. It looked bigger than it needed to be, blank and empty like some huge dehydrated beast from which the innards had been plucked.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Elephant
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

The longer the elephant problem remained unsolved, the more interest the developer had to pay for nothing. Still, simply killing the thing would have been out of the question. If it had been a spider monkey or a bat, they might have been able to get away with it, but the killing of an elephant would have been too hard to cover up, and if it ever came out afterward, the repercussions would have been tremendous.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Elephant, The Mayor, The Townspeople
Page Number: 310
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

Riddled as it was with such perplexities and labored circumlocutions, the newspaper article as a whole left but one possible conclusion: The elephant had not escaped. It had vanished. Needless to say, however, neither the newspaper nor the police nor the mayor was willing to admit—openly, at least—that the elephant had vanished.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Elephant, The Mayor, The Townspeople
Page Number: 315
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:

“The most important point is unity,” I explained. “Even the most beautifully designed item dies if it is out of balance with its surroundings. Unity of design, unity of color, unity of function: This is what today’s kit-chin needs above all else.”

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Woman at the Party
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’m finding this a little hard to grasp,” she said softly. “You were carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with me until a couple of minutes ago—at least until the subject of the elephant came up. Then something funny happened. I can’t understand you anymore. Something’s wrong. Is it the elephant? Or are my ears playing tricks on me?”

Related Characters: The Woman at the Party (speaker), The Narrator, The Elephant
Page Number: 322
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:

I felt like this a lot after my experience with the vanishing elephant. I would begin to think I wanted to do something, but then I would become incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing it and of not doing it. I often get the feeling that things around me have lost their proper balance, though it could be that my perceptions are playing tricks on me. Some kind of balance inside me has broken down since the elephant affair, and maybe that causes external phenomena to strike my eye in a strange way. It’s probably something in me.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Elephant, The Woman at the Party
Page Number: 327
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Elephant Vanishes

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator 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
The narrator recalls the day he found out that the elephant housed in his town had disappeared.... (full context)
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
The narrator studies the article meticulously, learning that the elephant’s absence had been noticed the day before... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
The narrative shifts to tell the backstory of how the narrator ’s town, an affluent suburb in 1980s Tokyo, came to acquire the elephant. When the... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
In the present, the narrator remembers his ongoing obsession with the “elephant problem,” noting that he kept a scrapbook of... (full context)
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
...is moved to a cleared plot of land and established as the makeshift elephant house. The narrator recalls the dedication ceremony for the building, including a speech by the mayor, a reading... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
...ignored by the townspeople. The elephant and its keeper subsequently develop a close bond that the narrator regularly visits the elephant house to observe. The elephant and keeper seem to have a... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
...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 the disappearance. The... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
...town’s opposition party are skeptical, believing the elephant’s disappearance to be a corrupt political maneuver. The narrator briefly considers responding to the police’s request for information on the elephant’s whereabouts but decides... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the narrator obsessively follows newspaper reports and editorial cartoons about the elephant, filling multiple scrapbooks with clippings.... (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 washing away his... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
The narrator and the woman take a liking to each other, and he invites her to continue... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
The narrator realizes that the woman can sense that there is more to the elephant story than... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
The narrator then reveals the strangest aspect of the disappearance to the woman: on May 17 (the... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
After the narrator recounts these strange events to the woman, an awkward silence falls over the pair as... (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
The narrator continues on with his normal life on autopilot, living “based on afterimages of memories I... (full context)