The Elephant Vanishes

by

Haruki Murakami

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Themes and Colors
Alienation, Connection, and Unity Theme Icon
Order, Perception, and Imbalance Theme Icon
Modernity Theme Icon
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Elephant Vanishes, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Alienation, Connection, and Unity

In “The Elephant Vanishes,” Murakami recounts how a Tokyo suburb deals with the improbable disappearance of an old elephant that has been left in the town’s care. Through the narrator—the last person to see the animal before its strange disappearance—as well as the elderly zookeeper and the elephant itself, Murakami spins a story of isolation and meaningful connection. The central conflict in “The Elephant Vanishes” lies in its characters’ inability to form deep bonds…

read analysis of Alienation, Connection, and Unity

Order, Perception, and Imbalance

As in other works of magical realist literature, “The Elephant Vanishes” features surreal situations that seem to disrupt the fundamental natural order. The titular elephant, already a wild animal at odds with its surroundings in a suburb of Tokyo, appears to physically shrink in relation to its keeper just before the two vanish. Witnessing this surreal shift in balance has a profound effect on the narrator, who feels that his own life has…

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Modernity

The progression toward modernity serves as the catalyst behind the general state of disorder and meaninglessness that abounds in “The Elephant Vanishes.” The story takes place in 1980s suburban Tokyo, where towns were still in the midst of the economic boom and technological advancements that characterized post-WWII societies. The consequences of modernity are evident in the expansion of the story’s town as well as in the public relations career of the narrator. Murakami’s focus…

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Humans vs. Animals

In “The Elephant Vanishes,” the titular elephant is a displaced animal who is largely misunderstood and mistreated by the community in which it is forced to integrate. As a captive zoo animal, the elephant has no agency over its life—its whereabouts, housing, diet, and care are all placed under the control of a town that largely regards the elephant as a waste of practical resources. Rather than being treated with respect and proper care, the…

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