The Elephant Vanishes by Murakami

Surrealism is a literary or artistic movement that emerged in the twentieth century. It emphasizes the irrational and subconscious significance of imagery, which is achieved through automatism or the use of unexpected juxtapositions, among other things. Surrealism was also a movement that took place in the early 1920s. Surrealists were fascinated by the unconscious and believed that Sigmund Freud’s theories on the superego, dreams, and ego opened doors to a more authentic self and reality. They, like Dadaists, enjoyed the possibilities of spontaneity and chance. The movement, which began in Paris and spread throughout the world, influenced everything from politics to literature to music to social theory. The other definition of surrealism is an art and literature movement that was successful in the twentieth century. It 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 went ahead to be published in various collections and magazines in Japan. The stories are thematically and stylistically in line with Murakami’s previous works. The stories intermingle 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 Kangaroo Communique, The Dancing Dwarf, TV People, The Second Bakery Attack, The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday’s Women among others. The use of surrealism by Murakami is very effective. There is a bridge in the parallel worlds of visible and invisible. Murakami is able to make the ordinary into extraordinary by making the incongruous comprehensible.

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 novel are store clerks, business people, paraprofessionals, college students and home makers. Majority of these characters suffer from modern syndrome 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. After the discovery of the missing elephant, the town is frightened and people are in an uproar and the police are called in to calm 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 comes not a single track was found outside the enclosure? No explanation is given and the issue of the elephant cannot 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 a time he robbed a bakery as a child. Unfortunately, the robbery did not materialize and the manager of the bakery made the boys to 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. Her wife says it is a curse and he too agrees that he has been cursed. They resolve that the only way to resolve the curse is to commit another robbery. The bakery to be robbed this time is McDonald’s. The story appears to be riding a man of a curse at face value but I believe it is exclaiming the repetitive nature of our lives and the need to think outside the box. The spontaneous nature of human beings is often a surreal thought to the ordinary person. Despite another robbery being on the extreme level, it is a spontaneous way of mixing his life and live differently from the way he does every day.

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 the girl, he visualizes the best scenario of a young boy meeting a young girl. “This is amazing, he said. I have 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 without fail. After they left, a seasonal case of influenza hit and they were stripped of their memory going back to reality. A day came when they passed one another in the streets and did not remember their first meeting not their 100% perfect person. Personally, I believe that such a situation occurs in real life but Murakami brings out the reality in the story. Although it is not directly indicated, the surrealistic thought that there is a perfect person for all us and that we have unknowingly seen such a person in life is a daunting thought. But how can we know that the person we have me is the 100% perfect person? Have we previously met the person? I believe that love can grow stronger and that everyone has that perfect person. However, the thought that we can pass that perfect person is daunting because it is difficult to know.

The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women is another short story that exhibits surrealism. The story begins with a guy who had just quit his job as an office in a law firm and found himself stuck at home without a job and living the normal cycle of an ordinary person without a job. The guy receives a phone call from a strange woman. At the time of the call, the guy 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 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. Thee line between what is real and fiction is quite clear as it is put by the narrator but less 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 time 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 real. In most cases, Murakami employs surrealistic style as a metaphor for something not often talked about. These include warped personalities and mental illness among others. Does the dancing dwarf have a hidden meaning or is it meant to be taken as it is?

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 by his everyday life. Surrealism in this story could be representation of 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. In the The Kangaroo Communique, there is a guy who had a boring job and lived a depressing life. He worked in the complaint department of a store and one day found a well written complaint. In a bid to entertain himself, he wrote a letter to the girl who composed the complaint saying how he wanted to see her and talk to her. Eventually, he ended up sleeping with the girl.


Murakami uses simple and sometimes bizarre events and uses the to tap into issues that occur in the ordinary and routine life we live in. His short stories such as The Second Bakery Attack talks about severe hunger and out of the norm event, On seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning talks about the issue of choice and fate and The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women talks about boring life and marriage break-up are all deviant from the normal everyday life. At the same time, Murakami involves stories that involve loneliness, destruction, fate and confusion. My final thought is that he tries to make readers realize the monotony of their lives and tries to introduce abnormal events to make our brains think outside the box on our routine life.

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