Dressing up for the Carnival is a short story, written by Carol Shield, starring various characters and describing their seemingly indifferent actions in a non-chronological and ran-dom order. The title “Dressing Up for the Carnival” was originally released as a collection of 22 short stories in book format containing 249 pages but for this essay an excerpt has been chosen.
This excerpt tells seven different stories through the lives of seven different characters. They`re named Tamara, who bears resemblance to the weather god, Roger, who has found happiness in a mango, the two Borden sisters, who have just come home from a ski trip, Wanda, who has been sent on the strangest of errands by her boss, the old Mr. Gilman, who desperately tries to convince himself that his life is as fulfilling as everyone else`s, the popu-lar high-school halfback Ralph Eliot, and the first-year arts student Susan Gourley. Already from this short description of each character it is becoming apparent that this is not a short story like any other as it`s plot is very surreal and in some ways even dreamy.
The first story is about Tamara. Tamara is a woman, supposedly young, who is working for the Youth Employment Bureau. We are told her favorite time of the day is right after waking up, when she gets to pick out her clothes. We are told that “She loves her clothes. She knows her clothes”1. This quote signifies that these clothes are representing something more than just the materialistic objective. They are literally a part of Tamara. This is especially interesting when we are told that she “never checks the weather before she dresses; her clothes are the weather”2. If we were to presume that the clothes are indeed the weather and the clothes are literally a part of Tamara then we are forced to conclude that Tamara too is the weather. Much emphasis is placed on the yellow skirt and the white blouse she is wearing.
The white color could symbolize purity while the yellow skirt could symbolize divinity. All this could be interpreted as Tamara being a goddess — or more specifically the weather god.
Roger is a man at thirty years old who has just a mango for the very first time. This segment of the short story focuses on this first time experience Roger is having and it is clear-ly something very special for him. It could be interpreted that Roger is a man who has not been doing anything radically with his lives. He is entering his thirtieth year of age and is working for the Gas Board. Maybe he is entering a mid-life crisis. We are told that Roger could break out into a cha-cha-cha any minute now.
The third telling is about two sisters last named Borden who are back from their ski week. We hear a lot about their week e.g. that they still wear those “little plastic ski passes on the zipper tabs of their jackets”3, even though they have been back for a month now. It seems the two girls will remember this trip and the phrase “I SKIED HAPPY MOUNTAIN”, writ-ten on their plastic ski passes, for a long time coming.
Now we get introduced to Wanda. Wanda is described as an awkward woman, who was formerly an awkward girl. She has been sent on an errand by her boss who has asked her to drive his newly purchased baby carriage home since it doesn’t fit in his Volvo. In the begin-ning this “majestically hodded, [with] tires like a Rolls-Royce”4 English pram seems to steer Wanda as she can’t quite control it. Later on though she feels fully in charge of the pram while the “weight of her fingertips is enough to keep it in motion”5. This story ends with Wanda leaning over and reaching inside. She murmurs “Shhh, there , there, now” even thought the pram is empty.
All of these stories feature some sort of self-transformation and self-reflection. All the characters (including the ones, that have not been analyzed in this essay) have in some way changed or adapted according to their current situation. Roger, who could be interpreted as having lived a boring and grey-colored live, finds necessary comfort in a mango and Wanda discovers the qualities that are required by a mother nowadays.
And while some these interpretations may seem a bit far-fetched the whole linguistic and stylistic style in which this text is written combined with the dreamy fantasy world-like environment in which the various plots are set the whole story is inviting the reader to go crazy with one’s interpretation.