Rats

George Saunders is a master of writing stories with authentic details and relevant imagery, and tackling serious topics with a certain nod to humor. A striking example of which is his use of the rat tattoo. “Rogan had a tattoo of a rat on his neck, a rat that had just been knifed and was crying. But even through its tears it was knifing a smaller rat, who just looked surprised” (59). This small passage actually reflects the dynamic of the story quite well. If we were to assign characters to the different aspects of the tattoo, one could argue the larger rat is Jeff, and the smaller rat is Heather. Jeff knows what Darkenfloxx does to a person, he has had it done to himself before, yet he is willing to allow Heather to be Darkenfloxxed. At the same time, Heather has no idea what her fate is, and she is taken by just as much surprise as the smaller rat. One has to wonder who knifed the larger rat. Fitting within the metaphor, Abnesti would be the obvious culprit, but there’s no imagery to symbolize him. Perhaps the fact that the rats are present, while he is not, represents that through the pain, Jeff and the other victims still have humanity, while Abnesti has none.

4 thoughts on “Rats

  1. Willa S

    I like your comparison between the tattoo and Jeff’s dynamic. The tattoo was one of my favorite parts of this story. I would assume, to add onto your comparison, that the culprit, or the person knifing the larger rat, is Jeff himself. With his suicidal end in the story, it would make sense in this comparative dynamic, and be just the sort of weird element that George Saunders seems to be into.

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    1. Elijah J

      I think that interpretation works well, after all, he did commit suicide. My interpretation of it was more so along the lines that Abnesti hurt him, and you can’t normally see Abnesti. Most of the time during the story, he’s hiding behind a one-way mirror.

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  2. Athanasios P.

    I liked your interpretation of the tattoo. I did not notice that the dynamic between the rats could be applied to Jeff and Heather while reading the story. I was wondering though, does the fact that they are represented by rats mean that they have less humanity, since they are not treated as humans, but rather as test subjects, the most obvious of which is the rat/mouse?

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    1. Elijah J

      I think the rat symbolism is intentionally tied to Jeff and the other’s occupation as human lab rats. In a sense, their portrayal as rats is dehumanizing, but it’s more of a reflection of how they have had their humanity robbed by being used as lab rats. What makes this story hopeful is Jeff’s refutation of this dynamic and his assertion of his and Rachel’s humanity.

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