Analysis and interpretation of ”Elephant”
When all hopes and dreams are abandoned from our lives, the only thing we can do is taking advantage of others lives and make it our own. A life well planned can cost us our freedom and our ability to make decisions which are radically different from our previous ones. When desire, lust and romance have been deselected and ”the normal life” has taken its place.
These obstacles are what William meets and sooner confronts in the short story by Polly Clark called ”Elephant”. The story begins in media res, so as soon as the story begins we get engulfed.
We are meeting William sitting at his desk surrounded by notes and facts, where his Muse has left him and he has trouble finding inspiration writing biographies of pop singers as Christine, who he finds most adorable and attracted to (l. 46 – 51). The character Christine can be interpreted as Christina Aguilera, who, with her voice and her sexual behaviour, usually is very appealing for average men. William is the typical American man, who has settled down with his wife and currently is trying to start a family.
Their marriage is not filled with romance and love as one could expect, but more with expectations and compromises and it furthermore seems like William does not want a baby as much as his wife does. His mind is filled with thoughts of his biographies and how Christine must have wanted him to write about her (l. 71-72 and 76). He easily gets distracted from his thoughts and one could imagine that they are filled with his lost childhood and the things he had never been able to do in life. His flash-back to the moment when his mother gives him the blue elephant (l. 9-66) could easily be interpreted as the childhood his mother tries to give him. However, at first he could not remember the blue elephant from his childhood. It had vanished from his memory. The only thoughts that go through his mind are how he can revenge his lost childhood and regain consciousness of his identity. The narrator tells us at line 21-22: ”William would have preferred the film stars (male, golden age of cinema) but those had been claimed by someone quicker of the mark …”.
This specific passage shows that William was needed to give up his dream because someone got in his way. By writing about male actors it would have been possible for him to get famous and his life would thereby be complete. Happiness and celebrity goes hand in hand in his mind, but ever since he had to choose another career, his dreams fell apart and he was, in his own eyes, nothing but an ordinary man. That is why he is writing about the female pop singers so in that way he partly can fulfil his dreams through the women.
Nevertheless, this solution does not satisfy his desires, since he cannot relate to these women. He can relate to the male actors because of their sex, but the difference between men and women in this context becomes a huge factor for him and that gives him reason to change the stories about the women. Christine gives him trouble because of her pure mind due to her relationship with Christianity (l. 49), and his urge to make her life as miserable as his becomes even stronger. Therefore he synchronizes his life with hers and mixes the blue elephant into her childhood.
For him the elephant is a symbol of regret and grief and therefore he tries even harder to make the life of Christine miserable in the eyes of the readers. As he says at line 146-147: ”He wanted to give Christine something she had never had, something important of himself. ” – the aspects of life he wants to give Christine are defeat and loss because she, to him, never have had a change to experience it in her famous Christian life. But because the negative symbolism of the elephant only exists for him, his made up story about the life of Christine does not become a bad experience for the readers.
His attempt to make Christine a bad person is not successful (l. 135-142). That is when he realizes that his profession is not what he wants to do. The name Christine has not been chosen by coincidence and it was solely that choice of name, which gave Christine power over him. The relationship Christine has with God has been transferred to William and through it he is able to confront his obstacles and by typing the untruth about her he learns that, that is not the person he wants to be, and by this realization he becomes complete.
Even though he knows that someday he is going to be ”vanished from the face of the earth” (l. 148), he feels ready to start living his life again, because he finally has triumphed over his lost childhood and he definitively has found himself. His last falsity gives him the strength to stop telling lies about others, stop living trough others and gives him power to live his own life (l. 142-144). Therefore, the truth is the main theme of this text.
As a subcategory comes the blue elephant being a symbol of how important the childhood is for humans. If the blue elephant vanish from the life of a child, pain and regret will come later. Therefore, the story is a form of a aide-memoire in life to parents to teach them how to raise their children. Polly Clark has written this text to tell us how important it is to keep believing in something that helps us maintain our dreams in life pure.