The Elephant Vanishes


Haruki Murakami

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The Shackle Symbol Analysis

The Shackle Symbol Icon

Before the elephant vanishes, it is kept in a repurposed school gym that serves as the town’s makeshift elephant house. Whereas zoo animals are typically kept behind a barrier and given a relatively large area of land to roam, the elephant in the story is shackled to a concrete slab inside the elephant house. The narrator notes that the metal cuff is so strong that the elephant could never break free of it no matter how hard it tried. The shackle around the elephant’s ankle symbolizes humanity’s tendency to oppress and exert control over animals. Although the elephant is already held inside a building secured behind a gate, the townspeople’s paranoia over the potential safety risk that the giant animal could pose if it were to escape results in this inhumane treatment of preventing the elephant from simply moving around. In spite of this effort to control the elephant, the shackle is ironically found still locked on the floor of the elephant house after the animal and its keeper vanish—perhaps suggesting the ultimate futility of human beings’ attempts to exert control over animals and the natural world.

The Shackle Quotes in The Elephant Vanishes

The The Elephant Vanishes quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Shackle. 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
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 Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Elephant, The Keeper/Noboru Watanabe, The Mayor, The Townspeople
Related Symbols: The Shackle
Page Number: 312
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Shackle Symbol Timeline in The Elephant Vanishes

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Shackle appears in The Elephant Vanishes. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Elephant Vanishes
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
...the elephant to eat. The zookeeper who cared for the elephant was also missing, and the shackle that had been locked to the elephant’s leg remained lying on the ground of the... (full context)
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon the meaninglessness of these displays, as the elephant remains indifferent and held captive by the shackle chaining its ankle to a concrete slab. (full context)
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
...summarizes three inconsistencies that lead him to believe the elephant vanished, rather than escaped: 1. the shackle fastened to the elephant’s leg was found in the elephant house still locked with its... (full context)