The Elephant Vanishes

by Haruki Murakami

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

The Editor

An unnamed editor of a magazine for young housewives appears in the second part of the story as the narrator's potential love interest. She meets the narrator at a party to launch an advertising campaign thrown by the manufacturing company for which the narrator works. An intelligent and curious twenty-six-year-old woman, the editor talks to the narrator about the kitchen appliances his company is selling, the idea of pragmatism, and other topics at the party and afterward while they are having drinks in a hotel bar. Although they seem to enjoy an initial connection, after the narrator recounts his witnessing of the bizarre circumstances leading to the elephant's disappearance, the conversation dead ends and after leaving the lounge, the editor does not see the narrator again.

The Elephant

The unnamed elephant is a symbolic character in the story, representing an old way of life. Although its exact age is not known, the elephant arrived in the town from East Africa twenty-two years before it disappeared. The elephant is so old that it cannot be relocated to another zoo when the town's zoo closes. The elephant maintains a close bond with its keeper, and the two characters mysteriously vanish at the same time.

The Mayor

The mayor negotiates the agreement among the town, a real-estate developer, and the zoo's former owners to relocate the elephant to new surroundings after the old zoo closes down. A minor character, the mayor is a kind of stock figure of a suburban politician who holds ineffective news conferences following the elephant's disappearance.

The Narrator

An unnamed narrator tells the story of the disappearance of an old elephant and its keeper from the Tokyo suburb where he lives. A thirty-one-year-old man who works for the public relations section of a major electrical appliance manufacturer, the narrator obsessively tracks the elephant's story from the time of its relocation to an old elementary school gym through its mysterious vanishing. He meticulously keeps a scrapbook of articles on the elephant's disappearance and witnesses the strange circumstances that may account for the occurrence. Like many of Murakami's characters, the narrator is an isolated and quirky person who seems bewildered by the absurdity of his daily life. He also meets and thinks about courting a young magazine editor. However, following the elephant's disappearance, the narrator finds that he has become so unsettled by the loss of balance in the world that he cannot act, and he never bothers to ask the editor out.

Noboru Watanabe

The only named character in the story, Noboru Watanabe is the sixty-three-year-old zookeeper who has tended the elephant for over ten years. The narrator describes the keeper as a "reticent, lonely-looking old man," who faithfully takes care of all the elephant's needs and lives next to the elephant after it is relocated from the old zoo. The keeper and the elephant enjoy a special bond, which the narrator notices as he spies on them through an air vent in the elephant house. The keeper is generally kind to children who come to see the elephant, and the zoo authorities describe him as knowledgeable and dependable. However, the keeper remains a mysterious character throughout the story, and in the end, he disappears along with the elephant.

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