Fat by Raymond Carver

Fat - Raymond CarverIn Fat by Raymond Carver we have the theme of connection, change, control and choice. Taken from his Will You Please Be Quiet, Please collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and begins with the reader being told about a conversation that the narrator had with her friend Rita. The narrator is a waitress and she is telling Rita about an obese man who came into her diner one day. The first thing the narrator noticed about the man was his long, thick, creamy fingers. This image of the fingers is important because the narrator, on several occasions, uses the man’s fingers to describe his physical appearance to Rita. Later in the story fingers are used again to describe Rita but more importantly to attach the sense of connection between the narrator and the man.

The diner is busy and the narrator is waiting on the man. On four separate occasions, as the narrator is serving the man, her work colleague’s comment on his size. The first to do so is Margo, who asks the narrator who her fat friend is. Then Leander comments on how fat the man is but on this occasion the narrator defends the man and tells Leander to shut up. Then Harriet calls the man old tub-of-guts and just as the man is finishing his dinner Rudy, the cook and boyfriend of the narrator, comments on the size of the man. These interactions that the narrator has with her colleagues are important because they again connect the narrator with the man (defending him), even if the narrator is yet aware of it.

Throughout serving the man the narrator is the only one who shows patience and kindness to him, even though she knows that he is eating too much food (three baskets of bread before the main course). She is particularly kind to him (not only in talking to him but in the size of the servings she serves him). When everyone else has left the diner and he is the only customer left, he apologises to her for keeping her back so long, but she tells him that it’s okay. Several times in the story the narrator refers to the puffing sound that the man makes, a sign to the reader that because of his weight the man has problems breathing. Another interesting point is that when the man refers to himself he does not say ‘I’, rather he says ‘we’, as if he is eating for two. This also suggests, by using the word ‘we’, that the obese man is connecting himself with the narrator, though again the narrator is yet to see this. As he is eating his dinner the man suggests to the narrator that because it is too warm, he might take his coat off. Later the narrator looks at the man and realises that he never took his coat off (no change, remaining the same), the reader aware that the man may feel embarrassed about showing his size. When the narrator serves the man his dessert he tells her that he has not always eaten so much food and again referring to himself as ‘we’. He tells her that now he has no choice, that he must eat this way.

After he finishes his dinner the man leaves the restaurant and the narrator goes home with Rudy. While at home and making Rudy a coffee the narrator holds her stomach and thinks about what it would be like to have children as obese as the man in the diner. Again this is important because the narrator is starting to connect herself to the man. After she brings Rudy out the coffee, Rudy tells the narrator about two boys he knew when he was a kid. They were both overweight and one was nicknamed Fat and the other Wobbly. He tells the narrator that he wishes he had a photograph of the two of them so that he could show her how fat they were. Throughout Rudy telling the narrator about the two boys the reader is aware that Rudy is making fun of them, just like he did the man in the diner. After hearing Rudy’s story the narrator goes to bed. Rudy finishes off his coffee and follows her to the bedroom. As he gets into bed Rudy climbs on top of the narrator and starts to have sex with her. Against her will the narrator has sex with Rudy but imagines that she is fat (connecting with the man in the diner) and that she cannot feel Rudy on top of her, as if he didn’t exist. This is important because it highlights to the reader the sense of separation between the narrator and Rudy. There is no longer a connection between the two. Rudy climbing on top of the narrator is important for another reason as it is an example of Rudy exerting control over the narrator, just as her making him coffee highlights in some ways that the narrator is being controlled by Rudy.

Carver ends Fat with the narrator finishing off her story to Rita and looking at Rita’s ‘dainty’ fingers (again physical description). This is important because through the description of Rita’s fingers the reader gets a sense that the narrator is comparing not Rita’s fingers but her own (as fat too) to the man’s ‘long, thick, creamy fingers’. In essence she is associating the shape of a person’s fingers with the character of the person (fat being strong). She is also making another connection between herself and the man. It is through this second connection with the man that the reader is left with the impression that there will be a change within the narrator, a change she does not fully understand yet. Though the reader is never directly advised by Carver as to what that change may be, it is most likely that the narrator will decide to leave Rudy realising that she has a choice (unlike the man in the diner). Through the man in the diner and the story Rudy tells her of the two boys, the narrator has seen through Rudy and does not like what she has seen.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Fat by Raymond Carver." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.

12 comments

  • I enjoyed your review Dermot. I particularly appreciated your insight into the symbolism of the finger descriptions. (I missed this completely!) I also felt the story highlighted people’s readiness to criticize others with perceived flaws as a way of self-affirmation, perhaps in an attempt to demonstrate strength and deny their own weaknesses.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Chris. I would agree with you. Some of the characters in the story do appear to be more interested in criticizing others rather than attempting to explore, understand or resolve their own weaknesses. I think this is particularly true with the narrator’s boyfriend.

  • I understand how the protagonist can be seen as being ‘fat/strong’ however I don’t see how the Fat man is strong. Can someone please inform me on how the two characters are connected and are strong?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      By defending the obese man, when her colleagues comment on his size, Carver may be connecting the protagonist with the obese man. Also the protagonist shows the man kindness and patience when she is serving him in the diner, which might further suggest a connection between both the protagonist and the man. The obese man’s use of the word ‘we’ when he is talking to the protagonist, also suggests a connection between both him and the protagonist. As for being strong, by (possibly) deciding to leave Rudy at the end of the story, the protagonist displays an element of independence which would suggest an inner strength within the protagonist. Carver also appears to be using the obese man’s fingers as symbolism for strength (fat being strong) and by the protagonist likening her own fingers to the obese man’s, Carver may likewise be suggesting that not only is the obese man strong but so too is the protagonist (particularly if she has decided to leave Rudy).

  • Very interesting analysis. I wonder, though, if the narrator is not exhibiting control in relation to the Fat man; my impression of him was one of weakness via compulsion and that the narrator (especially through the constant, unprovoked bringing of the bread) exerts a perverse, albeit not malicious, influence over the man, who has “no choice”.

    I agree with you that there is a connection between the narrator and the Fat man, as well as a disintegration of the connection between Rudy and the narrator. However, it seems that like the connection between Rudy and the narrator, there is a parallel element of control in the connection between the narrator and the man. Perhaps that control and a certain lack of will is inherent in connection. If so, while there may be change on the horizon, it may be a change without a difference.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking analysis.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment George. You could be right. One of the great things about Carver’s stories is that they are open to interpretation. There is every possibility that the narrator is attempting to exert control over the obese man by continually bringing him bread which in turn would mirror the control that Rudy has over her. I also like your suggestion that ‘control and a certain lack of will is inherent in connection.’ If this is the case I would agree with you that any changes that the narrator makes in her life may not necessarily be significant (or as you suggest make a difference). Rather all the narrator may be doing is reversing roles and instead of it being her that is controlled by others (Rudy), she is now the one who is exerting control (the obese man as an example). Just as the obese man’s lifestyle may be unhealthy it is also possible that any future relationships (or connections) that the narrator may have with others may also be unhealthy should the foundations of the relationship be built on the ability of one individual being able to control another individual based solely on that person’s lack of will.

  • I am currently an English lit student and am struggling to answer the following questions based on Fat.

    1. How does Carver implement a sense of disappointment in this story?
    2. Has he demonstrated a possibility of a miracle or redemption?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment JoAnne. The sense of disappointment in the story may be two fold. Firstly how the narrator feels about the treatment that the obese man is receiving from Rudy and her work colleagues. They lack consideration and compassion towards him with the narrator being the only one who is considerate (or compassionate). Also when the narrator is having sex with Rudy. She is in reality a non participant. She has no interest. Which may stem from her disappointment with her relationship with Rudy.

      I’m not too sure a miracle has happened in the story but there may very well be the possibility for redemption (for the narrator). The narrator may have decided to leave Rudy and as such begin a new life without him (and his negativity). Something that has been triggered by her encounter with the obese man. By showing the obese man compassion and consideration the narrator may realise that she has to do the same for herself. If she is to move on with her life.

  • I would like more of an explanation (with clear detail) about the end of this story. What she (Rita) is waiting for? What she (narrator) knows and the meaning of August. Thank you.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Lim. It’s difficult to say for certain as to what Rita is waiting for. It is possible that she is waiting to find out what the narrator’s next step may be or what meaning the narrator gives to her story. As readers we are aware that Rita doesn’t understand what the narrator has told her so she may be waiting for further insight.

      As to what the narrator knows (or intends to do) is also difficult to say as each individual reader will interpret the story differently. For me I feel that the narrator is about to begin a new life and she knows that she will leave Rudy. A decision that has been reached after her encounter with the obese man.

      When it comes to the meaning of the line ‘It is August’ it is possible that Carver is suggesting that just as August is near the end of summer likewise the narrator may be near the end of her relationship with Rudy. And as the season changes (to autumn) likewise so too will the narrator’s life change.

  • I think the narrator may have noticed that appearances can be deceptive. The big man is very polite and thankful towards the narrator during the whole meal while the businessmen (on the other table) are very demanding and of course Rudy is rude and oppressive.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment and insight Paivi. I like the comparisons that you make. I hadn’t thought of them. Appearances can be deceptive. There is a sense that the obese man is opening the narrator’s eyes for the first time. When you look at the other characters in the story versus the obese man.

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