(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The nameless narrator begins with a long, careful, and reflective examination of the event that inspired the story’s title. He then continues in a more active vein, describing his personal encounter with an attractive, seemingly compatible woman at a business event. What transpires during this encounter reveals how deeply the mystery of the elephant’s disappearance has affected him.

When the story opens, the narrator is sitting alone in his kitchen, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. He discovers a news article about the disappearance of the town’s elephant, which has escaped.

The narrator has closely followed the story of the elephant for some time and has assembled a scrapbook of news items concerning it. Originally an attraction in a private zoo, the elephant became a ward of the town because its original owner was unable to find the animal a new home when the zoo closed. Because much of the zoo property was to be developed, with condominiums taking the place of animal cages, the mayor decided the town would pay the animal’s expenses. These included maintaining the elephant keeper from the zoo, an old man named Noboru Watanabe.

The elephant’s disappearance is mysterious. It was shackled with a locked iron cuff chained to a cement anchor and was kept in an elephant house made from the former school gym. On the morning of its disappearance, the cuff was found empty but still locked, and the key remained securely locked up elsewhere. No footprints showing the path of escape were found outside, even on the hill above the elephant house. Perhaps more mysteriously, the emergency personnel called in to search for the animal turned up no traces of it, despite the...

(The entire section is 699 words.)