Short Stories

‘Fat’ by Raymond Carver

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(1114 words)

It’s Christmas again and a time when too much is eaten; an apt moment maybe to read Fat’ by Raymond Carver. This is a story about an individual who enters a restaurant to have some food. The protagonist of this story works as a waitress, she recounts to her colleague what happened the previous night. From this unnamed women’s point of view, she tells how an oversized man enters and eats at ‘her station’. This individual indulges. It is obvious that the customer is self-conscious about his size, and how people see him. The waitress is kind and very polite to him, but there is an underlying fascination. Carver’s story highlights how some people have a readiness to look at people with perceived flaws as a way of making themselves feel better but also how others can see the real person and empathise. Sadly, this is not seen in the waitress’s partner.

“He is the fattest man she had ever seen”, initially the waitress seems to be mocking the customer already. People’s first impressions are often rude. However, she contrasts this immediately with positive factors of his neat appearance and how well he is dressed. The customer is already labelled like many in society because of their weight even if they are respectable people. The customer in the story comes through the restaurant door and sits at a table. He is being watched all the way to his seat while as he sits at the table minute details are noticed with his fingers: “three times the size of a normal person’s”. The reader envisages the waitress has never seen a large person before. Would she do this to any other person or does his fatness embrace her curiosity? ‘Good evening’, she says, he replies courteously enough with a “little puffing sound every so often“. The reader recognises that she is still figuring this man out despite the fact it may be indicative of his weight. Despite the now obvious acknowledgment of the man’s weight, the waitress still recounts her story to her colleague with “Rita, he was big, I mean real big’.

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A&P Themes by John Updike

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Once you read John Updike’s short supermarket story you are hit by many different themes. A reader could say it is the decadence of the girls who go against society’s norms by wearing their bikinis in the supermarket; there is also Sammy, a shop worker, who could well have made a rash and stupid decision to leave his job.  Both of these themes are justified, although I believe that the main theme in this passage involves how mundane life can be. This is shown in the supermarket which is turned upside down with the entrance of the three scantly clad girls.

Within the first paragraph, the reader gets an idea of the two worlds Sammy is faced with. On the one hand Sammy has a welcome female distraction that he can not keep his eyes off, as he rings up the same product twice on the cash register. This is contrasted by the lady he is serving, as we find out she is a ‘witch’ of about fifty who sees his mistake and gives him ‘hell’. Sammy rudely comments that she would notice the mistake, as she had been doing week in week out for forty years.

Sammy alludes further to the dullness of the supermarket when he refers to the shoppers as ‘sheep pushing carts down the aisles’ and how they walk around the shop following each other, even though there are no one-way signs. Of course, the girls clash with this almost robotic movement of the shoppers by going against the flow of traffic.

Furthermore, we find the manager with some decisions to make. Sammy comments that he is a ‘pretty dreary’ figure.  The manager does not help alleviate the mundane feel of this place, as his attitude to the girls does not raise a smile on his face. He comes straight out and tells them ‘this isn’t a beach’ He gives them a ‘sad superintendent stare’ as he reprimands them for not being decently dressed. We again see Sammy’s contrast to the situation, as he raises a smile which his manager notices and does not like. The manager compounds his dull attitude by commenting to the girls that it is the ‘company policy’.

Finally, the boredom and monotony of the supermarket is ultimately shown as Sammy quits his job. The experience of the day has told Sammy to seek a more interesting profession.

(Words 397)