Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Andre Dubus’s “The Fat Girl” is not so much a story about a young woman’s uncontrollable urge to eat to the point of obesity as it is the story of a psychological hunger, not only for love but also for acceptance as a whole person. The protagonist, Louise, clearly does not grow up in a cold and indifferent family environment. On the contrary, her father showers affection on her, indulges her, and never chides her about her weight. Her mother is concerned about her appearance and tries to give her dietetic lunches and motherly advice. What then is Louise’s problem?

One might say that the source of her disturbance is her difference, the fact that she is a fat person in an unaccepting world of thin people. In that sense, she is not unlike many other people who are different in some way. Both of Louise’s parents are thin, and they expect their daughter to be the same way. In fact, when she does try to fit in by losing weight, she tries to emulate her mother who, like Louise, has long pale blond hair and smokes cigarettes—a habit that Louise takes up during her diet. Louise is not popular with boys not because of who she is, but because of her weight. Even after she marries Richard and has his child, Louise feels that he only loves her because she is now thin and would not have loved the earlier, fat Louise. Both Louises, the fat one and the thin one, are the totality of Louise, and she wants to be loved as a complete person. As it turns out, her suspicions about Richard are correct, for as she gains weight, Richard becomes more distant. At the end of the story, it is clear to Louise that Richard—and most of the world—will not love her for who she is; he will simply respond to what she looks like.

This is not to say that Louise is an admirable character in the story. She is self-indulgent, willful, deceitful, and ultimately self-destructive. She is, nevertheless, uncompromisingly herself, something that everyone is—or wishes to be—and she is not entirely to blame. In a world where thin is beautiful and the different do not fit in, many people like Louise are doomed to loneliness, shame, and pity.


(Short Stories for Students)

The theme of identity is perhaps the most important aspect of ‘‘The Fat Girl.’’ Since the age of nine, when...

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