Setting and Themes

Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・Literature ・MLA ・2 Sources

'Exotic Pleasures,' by Peter Carey, contains a number of topics that can be explored. The key protagonists of the plot are a husband and wife whose lives are in shambles until they encounter their other friend, the pigeon. The couple is driving through town, undecided on how to spend their last few bucks. They even consider taking food and champagne and leaving without paying for them. However, before they do so, the bird gives Lilly a new kind of fortune. She enjoys a sort of joy as she pets the bird, which she then shares with her husband and several other people. The bird can provide them with extra coins, but the story does not end with them staying happy ever after. Lilly eventually confesses to Mort that he is angry because a tiny bird could give her the things he could not offer. After they almost run into an accident and in the bitterness of the argument, she strangles the bird to its death. However, their argument has led them to drive to a new place, Kennecott, where they meet more of the similar birds. The story ends in suspense as we do not know what Lilly and Mort do with the newly found exotic pleasures. The setting of the story contributes to the outlining of the themes in a massive way. This essay examines ways in which the setting contributes to the themes of the story.

In the story, Peter Carey suggests that capitalism is out of control. This theme is supported by different expressions of the setting in the story. The first setting we experience is a show of modernity and the ideal life in a town. A couple, where the wife is pregnant lives in a modern setting with no source of income, a car to fuel, hustle for jobs and a remaining $200 which they have no idea how to spend. In the same setting, human relationships have been destroyed because of materialism and greed. When Lilly asks the man that popped at the window of the car whether there were jobs in there, he responds in a brutal but honest manner, “Let’s say there are an awful lot of people in there waiting to be told no.” (Carey 112). This shows that they are living in an environment where they are struggling for a job and a living. Even the kind of fright that runs through Lilly’s mind when the man pops at the window shows that they are thriving in an environment where trusting strangers has been forbidden, and anything out of the ordinary is scary. “When the face appeared in the open window by her shoulder she got such a fright she couldn’t remember whether she’d said “fuck” out loud or just thought it.” (Carey 111).

The major and special element in the story is the bird. It is a representation of both the creative and destructive abilities of addiction and capitalism. It is a paradoxical metaphor that shows that the environment in which the story dwells can go to both extremes of destruction and creation. It brings about contradicting themes of life and death. At the beginning of the story, the bird is alive and beautiful and it helps the couple to have a living. A few minutes with the owner of the motel and the couple gets free accommodation, meals, drinks, and extra dollars, prompting the couple to lie that they are in show business and start charging everyone for a few minutes with the bird. “When she felt the first pulse of pure pleasure she imagined that it originated from the colours themselves and later when she tried to explain this first feeling to Mort she would use the word, “swoon”, savouring the round, smooth strangeness of the word.” (Carey 112). However, later on, the bird is a representation of death and hate. Lilly and Mort begin to quarrel and fight over small things, an argument which leads Lilly to confess to Mort that the bird gives her things he is unable to offer. Things such as money and pleasure. Love is lost, and there are death and pain, as opposed to the beginning when there was life, love, and pleasure. “Most of all it is because you’re frightened of pleasure. You can’t have pleasure yourself. You don’t know how. You can’t stand the sight of me having pleasure. You can’t give me pleasure, so you’re damned if anything else is going to.” (Carey 129). The bird paradoxically represents pleasure and pain, life and death, love and hate. All these are the things that the present life capitalism is capable of, and both extremes are dangerous.

Another theme expressed by the setting of the story is the human craving for power which easily prompts them to lose sympathy for one another. Initially, Lilly makes noise to make Mort happy, and this made him think that he gave her pleasure. However, later after the bird has given her some income and a sense of power, she feels that she can be brutal to Mort, confessing that the only reason why she made him think he gave pleasure, was because she loved him and wanted to make him happy. This suggests that she has lost the love ("Peter Carey_H - Today 1 Discussion of Peter Carey’s Exotic Pleasures How Its Literary Elements Support Its Themes 2 Using Quotations from the Story In").

Every setting in Peter Carey’s “Exotic Pleasures,” contributes to the theme development throughout the short story. Each location, actions, and elements he picks is because he wants them to represent something.

Works Cited

Carey, Peter. The Fat Man in History and Other Stories. Vintage, 1993,.

"Peter Carey_H - Today 1 Discussion Of Peter Careys Exotic Pleasures How Its Literary Elements Support Its Themes 2 Using Quotations From The Story In." Coursehero.Com, 2017,

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