Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Symbolism in Mrożek’s “The Elephant” (Annotation G2-13/Goddard)

Mrożek uses an elephant as symbol of success and prosperity in his story “The Elephant”.
The zoological garden in a Polish provincial town is missing an elephant in its collection of animals. The importance of the regal beast is simply the status of the zoo and the people of the town. However, the cost of such an animal is more than the provincial town can afford and they wait patiently for an allocation of either funds or the elephant itself from Warsaw. The Director of the zoo, sensitive to the laborers of his country, sends a letter to Warsaw explaining another, more economical means of acquiring an elephant. He suggests the elephant should be manufactured of rubber, hence eliminating the cost of a real elephant. The order the rubber elephant is a façade to keep the appearance of wealth and prosperity.
To keep the operation covert, two keepers are assigned the task of inflating the elephant at night when there is no visitor at the zoo. A sign is painted explaining that this particular elephant is particularly sluggish to avoid suspicion that the animal may not be real.
This elephant, filled with gas by the two lazy zookeeper is unveiled on the 22nd of July, the anniversary of the liberation. The day of its unveiling is symbolic in itself, and as the zoo fills with schoolchildren and eager animal lovers, Mrożek chooses wisely a scene of conscientious students and their teacher to describe the scene. “The weight of a fully grown elephant is between none and thirteen thousand pounds,” (Mrożek 101). “At that moment the elephant shuddered and rose in the air. For a few seconds it swayed just above the ground, but a gust of wind blew is upward until its mighty silhouette was against the sky,” (Mrożek 101). As the elephant flies away, the crowd of schoolchildren stand horrified at the sight. The long awaited elephant flies out of the zoo. With the flight of the elephant, the façade of success is broken. The day of liberation celebration creates the rise of questions, namely how can a fully-grown elephant of nine to thirteen hundred pounds float away on the slightest breeze?
The real humor in the situation is the despair of the last the last paragraph of the story: “The schoolchildren who had witnessed the scene in the zoo soon started neglecting their studies and turned into hooligans. It is reported that they drink liquor and break windows. And they no longer believe in elephants” (Mrożek 101).
If the elephant symbolizes the wealth and wellbeing of a community, a town, or the country as a whole and it is a false one, a façade, such a scene can only bring the reality of life home, especially to children.


Mrożek, Slawomir. “The Elephant.” Trans. Konrad Syrop. Sudden Fiction International. Ed. Robert Shapard and James Thomas. New York: WW Norton, 1989. 98-101.


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