“Elephantiasis” by Dino Buzzati Summary

Elephantiasis Dino Buzzati Summary
“Elephantiasis” Summary

“Elephantiasis” is a short story by Dino Buzzati that can be found in his collection Restless Nights: Selected Stories. It’s about a mysterious phenomena that affects new-age polymers which have replaced all the previously used common materials that are heavier and costlier. Experts are at a loss to identify the cause, and the situation soon reaches catastrophic proportions. Here’s a summary of “Elephantiasis”.

“Elephantiasis” Summary

For many years, people have been producing things that now, in the year 2007, threaten their very existence. It’s an elephantiasis, a cancer of matter, and is mysterious even to the experts.

Research into plastics led to innovations in polymers, and chemists continued to look for replacements for all the commonly used materials. These polymers were differentiated from other substances by their extremely high number of atoms per molecule. Regrouping these molecules resulted in materials that were hard, elastic, malleable and light.

Chemists were soon creating materials to suit every trade and profession. Plastics are eventually used to produce everything at a fraction of the cost. In this favorable environment for plastics, the occasional concerning incidents are paid little attention.

In 1947, a plastic table displayed in a New York shop window constricts to the size and shape of a boccia ball. The equilibrium of the molecules was somehow broken.

In the sixties, the question arose as to what to do with worn or obsolete plastic items. They couldn’t be easily destroyed or recycled like paper. International meeting were held until it was decided in 1975 to sink the plastic detritus in special ocean zones. Italy didn’t sign the agreement, preferring instead to build artificial hills and mountains with theirs.

Almost no one foresaw the structural degradation of these new materials that has been causing panic for the last six months. The cause of the breakdown is unknown. The Earth could have entered a phase in the cosmos that is catalyzing the reaction, and when it leaves the problem will cease. This is our only hope. Four well-known examples will serve to mark the beginning of this emergency.

Last February 12th, a car known for its sturdy plastic body was traveling at 110 kilometers an hour on a superhighway in Italy. It suddenly swelled, blocking all three lanes and hit the back of a truck, resulting in four deaths. In the burning wreckage, the car continued expanding and thickening into a shapeless mass.

The next day in a Louisiana movie theater, the film clogged the projector and quickly expanded, killing the projectionist and bursting into the auditorium and street. The same week, a passenger ship in Japan multiplied its dimensions in moments and capsized, killing over 400. On February 27th, a bridge in Tanzania arched and swelled, blocking the underlying valley.

Despite the images of the strange occurrences, most people didn’t understand their nature and significance, dismissing them as natural disasters or something common.

Three months later, alarming episodes occur all over the world. On June 5th in Italy, numerous plastic items start slowly expanding and rising. People are terrified as they get run out of their homes by swelling objects. Experts explain that the molecules in these polymers are separating, resulting in tremendous expansion.

Destroying the objects by various means does no good. The smaller pieces still expand. Old houses furnished with wood are still intact, as long as the inhabitants removed all the plastics in time.

In Milan alone, over fifty thousand people have artificial implants for medical reasons. Over six thousand have already died, torn apart from the inside out by their rapid swelling.

The most horrifying sights are the building made from these polymers, like the municipal auditorium that is like a swollen, monstrous mushroom crushing everything around it.

Public services and utilities have gone out. Crazed mobs of people look for relief. The sirens of emergency response vehicles are rarely heard, and people’s shouts and prayers are diminishing. The tomb-like silence might be the most frightening part.

I hope this summary of “Elephantiasis” by Dino Buzzati was helpful.

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