Fat by Raymond Carver
In 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.