The Last Days of a Famous Mime Analysis

Peter Carey

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story of the famous mime’s last days is told in sixteen numbered sections that cover about seven pages. Some of the sections contain only one or two sentences. As the fragments of action unfold in a formalized manner, the narrative takes on the quality of a mime’s performance. The language is stripped to the barest essentials, just as the famous mime controls his art so that each movement and expression are absolutely essential to the story he is telling.

Because the media figure prominently in the narrative, at times the style assumes the quality of a news report. Facts about the mime’s public life are presented in a detached and objective manner, as though the perfunctory account appeared in a newspaper and was written by an indifferent reporter. Only two of the sections contain brief dialogue that relates the conflict between the mime and the woman. Otherwise, the numerous events are simply summarized. No matter how illusory the action, it is presented as fact. For example, when the mime has resorted to fulfilling requests from the public, one of his exploits is described as follows: “Asked to describe an aeroplane he flew three times around the city, only injuring himself slightly on landing.”

Carey’s skillful use of the absurdist technique makes the mime’s last days memorable, no matter how implausible the action. Each time the story is read, it takes on new dimensions. From the outset of his writing career, Carey has proved himself a brilliant stylist and has worked effectively in a variety of forms. This early story remains one of the finest examples of a controlled narrative that abounds with meaning.