In his short story, The Fat Man in History, Peter Carey, who is an Australian writer, offers us an experimental environment in which six fat, lonely, excluded men gather in a house and live in harmony. In this environment, capitalist powers try to detect a rebellious person in order to keep six men under the oppressive regime. To keep them loyal to the regime and force them to obey their rules, they carry out some of their planned tactics to prevent their rebellious actions towards the regime. As emphasized in the text, being fat is counted as: ''To be an oppressor, to be greedy, to be pre-revolutionary. It is impossible to say if it arose from the people or was fed to them by the propaganda of the revolution. Certainly, in the years before the revolution, most fat men were either Americans, stooges for the Americans, or wealthy supporters of the Americans. But in those years the people were of a more reasonable mind and could accept the idea of fat men like Alexander Finch being against the Americans and against the old Danko regime'' (Carey, 2). The reason why Carey chose the title as The Fat Man in History can be related to the mindset of capitalism. Generally, the fat man is associated with supreme people in the professional world. Carey purposely uses the figure of fatness to show people the imperialist idea which was imposed throughout history.
Members of the Fat Men's Club of New York gather at a meeting, circa 1930.
As Erdman Farrell mentions in Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture: ‘’Thought fat person in 18th- and 19th- century culture usually represented wealth and prosperity, or by extension, either literally or metaphorically, greed and avarice, there was one situation in which fat people themselves were mocked and shamed‘’ (Farrell, 32). Based on that quotation, the title of the story is about the era of human history exposed to the capitalist world and the craziness of consumerist ideas. Fat people are always covetous for eating more, and this greed is not only about consuming food but also relevant to spreading the ideology of imperialism: ‘’It was unfair. It was not a good time to be a fat man’’ (Carey, 3). As mentioned in the story, all the characters feel psychological oppression from society because they are fat. They lose their independence and are oppressed by the regime that conquers their mind. They cannot find another way to escape the situation they are in. The only solution for them is to save the day and conform to the rules of the regime which limit their freedom. Somehow, there is a leader who dares to rebel against authority: ''Fantoni is the leader and driving force of the 'Fat Men Against The Revolution'. The others are like a hired army, fighting for Fantoni’s cause which is to 'teach the little monkeys a lesson'” (Carey, 5). Even if Fantoni has plans towards the power of authority, he misses out on an aspect. Authority is always ready to design forces against their plans. Though Fantoni despises the system and prepares the rest of the fat men to teach lessons against the system, he loses this war in his hands. The real scapegoat is Fantoni himself, not the system itself.
To hold them together, the regime enhances a plan with the help of Florence Nightingale who serves for the authority. She takes care of all of them and makes them feel like special people. She offers them cigars, food, friendship and she even fulfills their sexual desires. We can understand that implication from the quotation: ‘’Florence Nightingale is their friend, their confidante, their rent collector, their mascot. She works for the revolution but is against it’’ (Carey, 11). While she makes them believe against the revolution idea, actually she implements government tactics. She approaches them just like a mother or a lover figure by means of that character, and she manipulates them secretly. While doing this, she does not show any clue to the real reason behind her tenderness. On the other hand, they prefer to ignore the real character of Florence Nightingale. Rather than evaluating her as a traitor, they decide to see her angelic side. Another strategy that authority develops is to make them oblige to pay their rents. In this way, she enforces them for adverse activities towards the regime. Florence Nightingale imposes the idea of eating Fantoni’s body, even if the fat men do not realize that manipulation, Nightingale puts the idea in their minds little by little because she knows how weak they are. She observes every deficit thing among them, and this way she gets the information she needs: ‘’Florence Nightingale says, it’s your role isn’t it? The eaters? You should behave in character, the way they expect you to. You should eat everything’’ (Carey, 9). She still shows her other face towards them, even if she knows they strive to conquer the regime. She prefers to hide her secret and keep on with her lie. That is one of the tactics of the system, setting them against each other. Through manipulation, they become enemies against everybody. One can conclude that the actions they take are not their decisions. They are just reflections of deception, and they are not aware of serving the system.
The English Alderman in Paris, taking Measure for a Suit á la mode!, British Museum Collection
In conclusion, the rebels fail in the system and are beaten up for their troubles. No matter how strongly they pursue their own artificial decisions, sooner or later they are conquered by the system. It is the result of the propaganda of the system: ‘’The following results were gathered from a study of twenty-three successive 'Fantonis'” (Carey, 21). Relying on that quote, we can say that there will always be Fantonis against the system, but the vicious cycle of the regime would not be damaged by them. This is the system that uses people as an experiment. The system will always be preparing itself against uprisings. Although some people want to resist the ultimate power of the capitalist regime and rebel against this power, there is no other way to escape the trap designed for them. Therefore, this short story proves the idea of the victory of capitalism.
Carey, Peter. The Fat Man in History. First Edition thus, later printing ed., Gardner Books, 1990.
Dokuz Eylül University. AKE 3026 - Contemporary American Short Story, Lecture Notes. 2021.
Erdman Farrell, Amy. Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture. NYU Press, 2011, pp. 30-32.
Fat Man, [Illustration]. https://tr.pinterest.com/pin/286682332518725823/
General Photographic Agency. (1930). Members of the Fat Men’s Club of New York gather at a meeting [Photograph]. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/03/07/469571114/the-forgotten-history-of-fat-men-s-clubs
Humphrey, W. (1772). The English Alderman in Paris, taking Measure for a Suit á la mode! [Print]. The British Museum. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_2010-7081-353