Dressing Up for the Carnival

by Carol Shields

Start Free Trial

How does the short story "Dressing up for the Carnival" by Carol Shields address our need as human beings to feel fulfilled/satisfied?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Dressing Up for the Carnival" describes the illusions, small pleasures, and discoveries that allow various characters in the story to find fulfilment in life.

The story opens with Tamara, a "clerk-receptionist for the Youth Employment Bureau," who is opening her closet and deciding what to wear. Tamara loves her clothes, finding meaning and inspiration in them. When she is fully dressed, she sees herself not as an ordinary woman about to take a bus to her mundane place of work, but as

A passionate woman dressed in yellow. A Passionate, Vibrant Woman About To Begin Her Day. Her Life.

The next character described is Roger, who has just bought a mango. He has never tasted this fruit before and does not know how they should be eaten. In any case, he has no intention of eating it, since he derives pleasure simply from the feel of the skin and its weight in his hand.

Throughout the story, the characters give symbolic meaning to such simple objects in order to feel fulfilled. The importance of illusion is made explicit in the final paragraph:

We cannot live without our illusions, thinks X, an anonymous middle-aged citizen who, sometimes, in the privacy of his own bedroom, in the embrace of happiness, waltzes about in his wife's lace-trimmed nightgown.

X "observes cycles of consolation and enhancement" wherever he looks, as people imbue their lives with meaning through the objects around them and the illusions they create.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team