Common Attributes of Peter Carey’s Short Stories sample essay
An analysis of several of the stories in The Collected Stories of Peter Carey reveals numerous common attributes, leading to the aspects of entrapment and isolation appearing as common aspects of the stories. These come across in both the physical and mental form. Often the entire experience of entrapment and isolation is the result of the interaction of both forms. The quality of entrapment seen throughout Crabs, Peeling and A Fat Man in History relies on lies.
In Crabs, the main character and his girlfriend become “stranded” at the drive in after their car parts have been stolen and the manager of the drive in tells them there is no way that they can leave, in effect lying to them. The same form of lying is adopted by Florence Nightingale in A Fat Man in History, as she makes them believe that they really can’t do anything to escape their place as the hated fat people in society except rebel against the government, suggesting all sorts of odd methods to do so such as ‘eating the statue’.
The lying is slightly different in Peeling. The narrator has fallen into a trap of self-deception, unwilling to accept the harsh truth, preferring to take ‘slow pleasure’ in ‘superficial things’. This allows him a more pleasant state of mind, but at the same time entraps him in a world of lies which will undoubtedly cause some distress once he is forced to see the truth. For entrapment to be further entwined in these three Peter Carey stories, the use of blind acceptance is also employed. This means the characters need to believe that they are physically trapped.
Those in Crabs are told they can’t get out of the drive in but aren’t physically trapped at first, yet they don’t try to rebel against the government by walking out of the drive in or attempting to escape in any way unless they have a functioning car. At some point they do become physically trapped as the government fence them in. The gang in A Fat Man in History just accept that they are obese and are hated by society, which may be true but they don’t want to do anything sensible to change this.
Instead, they stay inside the house unless working or involved in some scheme to steal or gather supplies for a highly irrational rebellion. Finally, in Peeling the man is not physically trapped in his room, yet due to his unemployment he rarely leaves the house. The thick fog of the London day feeds the idea of the physical side of entrapment. The frame of mind shown by the narrator due to this feeling is one that might be adopted by a person with a terminal illness or a criminal on death row; it’s the attitude of someone who knows their life will be over soon.
This mindset is one of everything must be superficial and savoured, that life shouldn’t be rushed and moments of seriousness can be left to rot. Love and inter-character relationships cause the characters of each story to become both isolated and entrapped within themselves. Peeling shows the reader the effect of love on the narrator, as he knows exactly what Nile is doing by listening only to her footprints, although they are both physically isolated the majority of the time.
He isolates himself from her in his entrapped mindset, not wishing to discuss such deep, serious things as feelings for abortion babies and their souls, yet loves her, or at least lusts after her, enough to know her schedule, talk with her about the mundane going on in life and tell what she’d doing when she’s rearranging the dolls on the floor above. It’s only when the narrator is freed of his self-deception, which was causing his entrapment, by Nile’s babbling about abortion babies and their souls does he integrate himself with her.
He is once again isolated by her transformations from woman to man to woman to doll. The fat men in A Fat Man in History all lust after “Florence Nightingale”. The simple fact they call her that despite her name being Nancy Bowlby suggests this much, with more evidence found when they all crowd into the room with expectation the night the rent is due and clamour to get her attention when she arrives. Furthermore, Finch admits to fantasising about her in one of her “secret visits” to his room, and the-man-who-won’t-give-his-name obviously feels something towards her as he sleeps with her.
This love and adoration of Florence leads to a divide between all members of the gang, isolating them mentally. It also allows Florence to trap them as part of her social experiment. In Crabs, the main character borrows the car from his friend Frank. He is then targeted by the Karboys who steal parts of the loaned car, leaving Crabs unable to get himself and his girlfriend home. This incident, combined with the fact the car was loaned, leads to Crabs’ entrapment in the drive in, as he is determined to return the car with the right parts.
It also isolates him as he waits for the correct car to come to steal the parts from, and he becomes more irritated and edgy as time goes by. The relationship between him and Frank is what causes his isolation from his girlfriend and others in the story. In all three Peter Carey stories studied from The Collected Works of Peter Carey, entrapment and isolation are common attributes of the characters. This comes across in many forms, both physical and mental, with these two features relating closely to each other. Entrapment and isolation closely linked as a character who feels trapped consequently feels isolated.
The stories of Peter Carey are written using surrealism which has the ability to give the reader the impression that the characters are more isolated than they really are as their lives are not streamlined with reality. Carey uses these ideas to highlight their place in today’s society, suggesting that all humans feel entrapment and isolation regularly, however it is fully controllable through our state of minds and ideals, yet at the same time is unavoidable, as everyone has relationships with others that cause them to feel certain ways, whether it be a relationship of love or of respect.
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