Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Elephant” is a fable written when Poland was under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party. Those who wished to criticize the oppressive government risked imprisonment and deportation if they spoke directly against the ills they perceived in their society. The only outlet for their social commentary was through art—in Mroek’s case, writing. Writing this story was a very courageous act because its political satire was direct. One cannot read the story without realizing that it has a meaning far beyond the humorous account of how a gas-filled elephant is buffeted by the winds and blown away from the zoo.

The director of the Zoological Gardens is a typical petty bureaucrat who places his own advancement above the needs of the people he supposedly serves. Quite without shame, he uses deception to achieve personal ends. He also draws into this deception two hapless subordinates who are powerless to resist his orders to work in secret during the night, blowing up the rubber carcass he needs to carry out his deception. The attendants are old and not used to the work they have been assigned.

As they labor away, trying to do their jobs, they become exhausted. Then they find the means of fulfilling their assignment expeditiously and satisfactorily. The elephant that emerges when the rubber skin is filled with gas is wonderfully lifelike and reasonably convincing if one does not examine it too closely. It is not unlike certain...

(The entire section is 440 words.)