Isak Dinesen

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Can you explain "The Fat Man" by Isak Dinesen?

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“The Fat Man" is a short story written by Danish writer Isak Dinesen (pseudonym of Danish baroness Karen Blixen), which was published in her 1977 collection of eleven short stories, Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales.

“The Fat Man” tells the story of a Norwegian student who works as a waiter and bartender at a bar in Oslo. The student becomes convinced that the fat man who often comes to the bar where he works might be a murderer. The fat man, who happens to be a poet, was seen walking alongside a young girl who was later killed; he was, in fact, the last person to see her alive.

The student becomes obsessed with the idea that the fat man is a murderer, which is why he decides to do something to ease his mind. He asks a young girl to come to the bar at the same time the fat man is there, wearing the same or similar clothes that the murdered girl was wearing. The student then plans to observe the fat man’s behavior and once and for all determine if he is the one who killed the girl.

When the girl walks in, the fat man doesn’t react in any particular way. At first, this seems to indicate that the student’s plan failed, but it actually means the opposite. Both the student and the readers realize that the plan is a success, because the fat man’s reaction or lack thereof shows his own obsession and guilt. The fat man is guilty because the young girl occupies his thoughts, so seeing “her” in the bar is nothing new or surprising to him. He “saw the only thing he expected to see. The only thing he ever sees now.”

Just like the student is obsessed with the fat man, the fat man is obsessed with the young girl, and that is all they each think about every day and night. Thus, Dinesen’s story can be considered psychological fiction, as it explores the themes of obsession and delusion. The narrative describes how these notions affect the human mind and psyche, or one’s mental and emotional state.

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