‘Fat’ by Raymond Carver: Short Story Analysis
Raymond Carver is the famous writer of ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?’ and many other short story collections like ‘Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?’ and ‘Cathedral’. ‘Fat’ by Raymond Carver is a story about a plus-size individual who is at the restaurant where the protagonist of this story works as a waitress. This plus-size individual indulges in comfort eating. It is obvious that he is embarrassed about his size, and how people see him as nothing else but the real projection of the word ‘Fat’ or ‘Fatty’. He comes to the protagonist’s restaurant to eat. The protagonist is kind, cheerful, and very polite to him, but there is an underlying fascination, where the feelings of the protagonist are concerned. She keeps on drawing her co-workers’ attention to him. He eats an impossibly large meal that takes the protagonist’s breath away, but she loves caring for the plus-size man.
She is never once rude to him. Even though in her mind she recognizes him as ‘fat’ she doesn’t say it out loud to her co-workers as much as they say it over and over again. This story is certainly the reality of how plus-size people are body-shamed in direct and indirect ways. They are always looked down upon in society because of their weight, even if they are people with good manners, respectful, kindness, people of repute, et al. Though the other characters mentioned by the protagonist are just waiters, cooks, or waitresses in the restaurant, they feel they are ‘above’ or even better off than the plus-size man who is a customer. Why? Because they are not ‘fat’ like him. The protagonist though tries to look at the man beyond his body. She does this because even where her relationship with her indifferent and selfish husband Rudy is concerned, she has to look at herself beyond a mere body for him to have sex with. Rudy makes the protagonist feel what the plus-size man feels, that they are nothing more than their bodies for people in society. However, the plus-size man is courteous at the restaurant. He is a gentle and good soul. But he always talks in the plural. He says things like ‘I think we will begin’ or ‘We have not always eaten like this’ or ‘You’ll have to excuse us’, and so on. This can have many indirect and direct symbolisms:
- That because of his size and loneliness he is his only friend, and so talks of himself in the plural form.
- He loves his body even though the world hates it. After all, it’s the only place he can live in, in this world. So, he personifies his body in plural with affection, while talking to the protagonist.
- He feels he is a person of no worth unless he is associated with another person. When there is no friend in sight, he is still used to referring to himself in the plural in embarrassment.
- He is psychologically disturbed because of his large body size.
You will also notice in the story that if it were a thinner person eating the many dishes that the plus-size individual ate, we would have looked at that person with admiration or maybe even wondered about the money in his pocket, and respected him as a rich gentleman. It doesn’t happen when a plus-size individual does so; we instead look at such a person with scorn and grudge him the food he eats. The protagonist can’t stand the jibes of her co-workers and tries to be as good to the gentle customer as possible. Here is a list of the food he indulged himself in eating as part of his comfort eating:
- Caesar salad
- Bowl of soup
- Extra bread and butter
- Lamb chops
- Baked potato with sour cream
- A large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce
- Pudding cake with sauce
- Pineapple sherbet
Instead of making the customer uncomfortable, the protagonist makes him feel right at home, as a true waitress should. He keeps on mentioning how embarrassed he is by his appetite, but the protagonist makes him feel that she likes men who enjoy their meals, and who is comfortable in her presence. This is a direct hit at her husband Rudy the cook, who back home demands to have sex without her consent. She is not comfortable around him at all because of his overall moody and cheap behavior. The protagonist mentions how Rudy ignores her while working, and makes snide remarks and gets mean when he takes off his apron and stops working. The customer puffs or makes puffing sounds throughout the story. This is indicative of his weight; he must be having a respiratory problem, most probably a pulmonary artery issue. The customer mentions that he never wanted to be the body size he is, but he has no choice because he tends to put on weight and not lose weight. This is the reason for his frustration and so he comfort eats in large amounts. The food order that he gives at the beginning of the story, which seems hilarious at first, becomes a symbol of a sad lonely life towards the end. The customer is so embarrassed about his size that even though it is warm in the restaurant, he doesn’t take off his coat. At the end of the story, the plus-size individual is made comfortable by the protagonist. However, she being the victim of society’s erroneous conventions, puts her hand on her stomach and wonders how she would handle a plus-size child. Then without her consent, Rudy has sex with her. He lies on top of her, a show of physical domination, even though he is a very small and conceited man in front of the protagonist.
Note in the story that the protagonist is retelling this entire episode to her friend Rita. Rita doesn’t understand the depths of the story, mocks the plus-size customer, and claims that the story was ‘funny’. Even though the protagonist also mentions the fact that her husband had sex with her without her consent, Rita still only feels that it all was ‘funny’. This is an indictment of the body-shaming society that we live in even in the twenty-first century. There are several takeaways from this short story titled ‘Fat’:
- The customer compliments the good quality of food throughout the story, a sign of good breeding and good manners.
- He is a rich man to be able to afford so much to eat.
- He mentions that he is from Denver. The protagonist could have been the first stranger kind enough to ask him something not related to his body-size or food. This could also indicate that maybe Rudy was from Denver and the fat kids he used to rag when he was young could be the customer. It is a slight hint, but it is very prominent.
- Rudy used to rag plus-size children and shows that to such body-shaming bullies, the only thing they think about is a person’s body, not their heart.
- The protagonist mentions, when she is serving the customer, that he is more than just his body size. She has empathy and respect for him.
- The fascination of the protagonist with the meaty fingers of the customer. This could be a reference to the ‘unkind fingers’ of Rudy who sees the protagonist only as a body to be used for sex compared to the cute but chubby fingers of the customer. It is a probative sexual reference.
There is a sort of unnerving sensation that we as readers get when we wonder if there is more than one person under the customer’s coat who is eating all that food. We wait to see till the last whether this is such a case, and the constant plural reference makes us feel so.
I have read Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?’ when I was young and have always wanted to read something else penned by him. It was a refreshing experience to read and analyze this short story of his and reminded me a lot about the aforementioned book. I have also reviewed a book called What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape? That is another interesting book which I think you should check out. If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you want to buy my books then you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you all!
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