The Fat Man in History

by Peter Carey

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The word "fat" entered slyly into the language as a new adjective, as a synonym for greedy, ugly, sleazy, lazy, obscene, evil, dirty, dishonest, untrustworthy. It was unfair. It was not a good time to be a fat man.

In “The Fat Man in History,” Alexander Finch reflects on how the meaning of fatness changed after the revolution that took place in his country. Prior to the revolution, a fat person was believed to be prosperous, wealthy, and fortunate: being fat was even desirable for this reason. After the revolution, however, he began to feel guilty for being fat because there was not enough food to go around. However, food production began to surge past its pre-revolution rate. The community even dumped grain into the sea because they had such a surplus. Nonetheless, he explains in the above quotation that the word “fat” changed meanings.

As a result of this absolute turnaround in terms of how these individuals were judged and treated, the group “Fat Men Against the Revolution” is formed, though it is unclear precisely who formed it. None of the six men living in the house seem to be its original members.

One of these men, Fantoni, seems to have connections anywhere he needs them:

He can arrange food. He can arrange anything. He can arrange anything but the dynamite he needs to blow up the 16 October Statue. He has spent two months looking for the dynamite. Fantoni is the leader and driving force of the “Fat Men Against The Revolution.”

It is telling that Fantoni is so well connected. Finch fears that he is going to be followed and arrested merely for stealing cans of oysters, and yet Fantoni is somehow able to procure anything he wants except the one thing that could really cause any damage or problems for the government. It almost seems like he is being allowed a certain level of subversion for some reason.

Then, in the final page of the story, readers learn that Nancy Bowlby, whom the men have always called “Florence Nightingale,” has written “Revolution in a Closed Society—A Study of Leadership Among the Fat.” She writes,

The following results were gathered from a study of twenty-three successive “Fantonis.” Apart from the “Fantoni” and the “Fantoni-apparent,” the composition of the group remained unaltered.

It turns out that she has been manipulating the group, acting in such a way that makes each of the men fall in love with her. From there, she can secretly compel Fantoni to attempt to cook and eat her as an act of rebellion.

However, she manipulates the man who will not give his name so adroitly each time that she is able to turn the tables and get the group to eat Fantoni instead. Despite Glino’s vegetarianism, she is even able to manipulate him to cannibalize Fantoni. It is then revealed that every time, the unnamed man then becomes the new Fantoni. She reveals that she has been studying this group dynamic for quite a while.

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