The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Shrinking Man relates the plight of Scott Carey, a man who finds himself diminishing in height by one inch per week. After exhaustive testing, a doctor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital explains this condition as a negative balance of nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus in Carey’s body. This imbalance was caused by accidental exposures to radiation and insecticides on separate occasions.

Although Carey’s emotional reactions to this condition can be compared to those of a person who has received a diagnosis of a terminal illness, his personality and his physical and sexual needs do not change as he shrinks. His condition creates chaos not only in his own life but also in the lives of other family members. His size becomes an embarrassment that prompts him to hide in the cellar to avoid being seen by other people, including his daughter’s baby-sitter. As he becomes smaller and more vulnerable, his relationship with his wife Louise deteriorates, despite her efforts to protect him from dangers such as the formerly harmless household cat.

At the opening of the novel, Carey is one inch tall. A series of flashbacks reveals his experiences over several months. Readers see that survival becomes his preoccupation even though his mind comprehends the futility of his attempts to save himself from the hazards that loom as he shrinks in a world that does not. He devises numerous ingenious ways to keep himself alive as his world becomes...

(The entire section is 509 words.)