The Fat Man in History

by Peter Carey

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Themes

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Manipulation and Fear

One theme the story conveys is that people are easy to manipulate, especially when they are afraid. The woman the six fat men call Florence Nightingale has successfully manipulated the group of men into cooking and eating twenty-three of their housemates. These overweight men are relatively powerless in this post-revolutionary society: they have been abandoned by their significant others, they are looked down upon by others, and they are denied occupations.

As a result of their low social position and their fear, it is fairly easy for Nancy Bowlby (the real name of the woman the men refer to as Florence Nightingale) to manipulate them at will. She flirts with Finch, developing enough of a private relationship with him to suggest the idea of eating a government official, for example. She also manipulates all of the men into falling in love with her.

The Consequences of Underestimating Women

Despite the fact that she clearly does manipulate them, all six of the men are in love with Nancy Bowlby (though Fantoni denies it, according to Finch). She establishes her relationship with Finch in order to plant ideas in his head, even flirting with him to make progress. She also manipulates her relationship with the man who will not tell them his name, preparing him to become the next Fantoni.

She manages to convince the men to kill and cook Fantoni instead of her, which was their original plan. They always seem to underestimate her and are never truly aware of the level of control she exercises over them. They seem to prefer to think of her as some ministering, angelic helper, and the fact that they call her Florence Nightingale—a famous nurse—is evidence of this.

Transfer of Power

The story seems to suggest that power is never transferred peacefully. It apparently took a revolution in order for power to be transferred in the society in which these individuals live. Furthermore, this group of men strongly oppose the new regime, and they are willing to become violent and aggressive in order to unsettle it.

On a smaller level, in order for a new “Fantoni” to rise, the old Fantoni must fall. Time after time—twenty-three times to be precise—the group must come together and be willing to kill and eat the person who, in their home, has been the most helpful in terms of supporting them. One leader, in this case, must die for a new leader to emerge.

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