Haruki Murakami: The Elephant Vanishes

Surrealism is a fashion of literature or art that was developed in the 20th century. It stresses on the irrational and subconscious significance of imagery that is achieved through automatism or the exploitation of surprising juxtapositions and chance effects among others. Surrealism can additionally be described as a movement in the early 1920s. Surrealists fed on the unconscious and believed that Freud’s theories on the superego, dreams, and ego opened doors to the truer fact and the more authentic self. They liked the chances of spontaneity and chance just like Dadaists. The movement used to be enormous; it started in Paris and moved to the rest of the world and influencing everything: politics, literature, music, and social theory. Surrealism is aimed at expressing imaginative visions and dreams free from the conscious rational control.

The Elephant Vanishes was written by Haruki Murakami and contains 17 short stories. These stories were written by Murakami between the years 1980 and 1991 and were published in various collections and magazines in Japan. The stories are thematically and stylistically in line with Murakami’s previous works. The stories mix surrealism with normality and focus on issues such as loneliness, destruction, loss, and confusion. Some of the short stories in the book include Sleep, The Dancing Dwarf, TV People, The Second Bakery Attack, and The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday’s Women. The use of surrealism by Murakami is very effective. There is a bridge between the parallel worlds of the visible and the invisible.

In The Elephant Vanishes Murakami mixes fantasy with reality, illusion with memory, and the metaphysical world with the physical world. The characters in Murakami’s novels are store clerks, business people, paraprofessionals, college students, and home makers. The majority of these characters suffer from modern syndromes of loneliness, emptiness, and angst. Hence, the characters’ ontological relationship with reality is defined by their ability to create scenarios and visions that are not real. The use of different and unreliable narrators causes the unbiased and factual plot of the different short stories to become ambiguous to the reader. In addition, the different nature of the characters in the short stories leaves the reader with a sense of uncertainty as to whether the events that occur in the story are true or are fantasies that have simply originated from the damaged mind of the narrator.

In The Elephant Vanishes, the narrator is reading the newspaper when an article catches his attention. According to the article, the elephant and its keeper were missing and their absence was noticed on May 18. Before that, there was no unusual activity that had been noticed. The town is frightened and the police are called in to resolve the situation. There is a search for the huge and old elephant, but to no avail. It is at this point that many questions are asked. How did the elephant slip out of its cage with a steel cuff around its leg? How did the elephant pass through the ten-foot-high fence around its enclosure? How come not a single track was found outside the enclosure? No explanation is given and the issue of the elephant can not be solved. The vanishing of the elephant remains a mystery and the narrator’s life also changes.

The Second Bakery Attack starts with a couple having strong “hunger pangs” with nothing solid to eat in the refrigerator. They resort to taking beer and the guy is reminded of the time he robbed a bakery as a child. Unfortunately, the robbery did not materialize and the manager of the bakery made the boys listen to music in return for the bread they had gone to steal. Instead of forcefully stealing the bread, they simply got it by listening to music. Telling his wife the story, she concludes that not using force was a mistake and the mistake had been unresolved for a long time and cast a dark shadow on their lives. The wife concludes that it is a curse and he agrees. They decide that the only way to resolve the curse is to commit another robbery. The story appears to tell a tale of a man who is cursed, but I believe it is exclaiming the repetitive nature of our lives and the need to think outside the box. The spontaneous nature of humans is often a surreal thought. Despite another robbery being extreme, it is a spontaneous way of getting rid of a routine and living differently.

Love is often a subject that is commonly talked about, but the way the perfect girl is described by Murakami in On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is out of the ordinary. Although the girl is not as beautiful and the narrator can barely remember anything about her, he did know that she was the girl of his dreams. Although he did not talk to her, he visualizes the best scenario of a young boy meeting a young girl. “This is amazing, he said. I have been looking for you all my life. You may not believe me but you are the 100% girl for me.” They decided that if they were meant to be with one another, their paths would definitely cross again. After they left, a seasonal case of influenza hit and they were stripped of their memory. A day came when they passed one another on the street and did not remember their first meeting. Personally, I believe that such a situation can not occur in real life, but Murakami brings out the reality in the story. Although it is not directly indicated, the surrealistic thought is that there is a perfect person for all us. But how can we know that the person we met is the perfect person? I believe that love can grow stronger and that everyone has that perfect person. However, the thought that we can pass them is unpleasant.

The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women is another short story that exhibits surrealism. The story begins with a guy who just quit his job in a law firm and found himself stuck at home living the normal cycle of an ordinary person without a job. He receives a phone call from a strange woman. At the time of the call he was cooking spaghetti. Ironically, the phone call grew to the extent where the two engaged in sex talk. The story hints at the boring and routine lifestyle the guy is going through as a result of not being employed. The sex talk is something out of the ordinary that makes him spontaneous and he realizes that there is more to life.

The Dancing Dwarf uses surrealism in a different way as compared to other short stories in the book. The line between what is real and fictional is not too clear for the reader. For example, when the narrator talks about the dream of the dancing dwarf, Murakami makes the aspect of surrealism quite clear. However, when the narrator wakes up, it takes him some time to realize that his life is very surreal as compared to the reality of the readers which is very different from his other writings. As a result, one wonders what is real and what is not. In most cases, Murakami employs a surrealistic style as a metaphor for something not often talked about. These include warped personalities and mental illness among others.

TV People is another Murakami story that has a unique structure. The narrator is depicted as a married man who is unhappy with his marriage and bored with his everyday life. Surrealism in this story could be the representation of a mental illness. The line between reality and fantasy increasingly become blurred and it could be assumed that the odd perception of the narrator could be the main reason for the break from reality.

Conclusion

Murakami uses simple and sometimes bizarre events and uses to tap into issues that occur in the ordinary and routine life we live. His short stories talk about out of the norm events, the issue of choice and fate, and a boring life and marriage break-up. All these are deviant from the normal everyday life. At the same time, Murakami involves stories that involve loneliness, destruction, and confusion. My final thought is that he tries to make the readers realize the monotony of their lives and introduce abnormal events to make them think outside the box.

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