Little Plastic Shipwreck

Little Plastic Shipwreck Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cate Kennedy's Little Plastic Shipwreck. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cate Kennedy

Cate Kennedy was born in Louth, Lincolnshire, England, where her father was on a posting with the air force. She returned to Australia in her childhood and lived in several states around the country with her family. After graduating with a BA in literature from the University of Canberra, she worked a wide variety of jobs, including for the Australian Customs Service, as a tutor, waitress, life model, kitchenhand, community arts worker, theatre director, and for a microcredit cooperative for peasant farmers in Mexico. These experiences have fed into her writing: in 2005, she published the travel memoir Sing and Don’t Cry about her time in Mexico, and her short story Habit (2001), which tells the story of a woman who dies while smuggling Cocaine across the border, is inspired by her time working for the Customs service. Kennedy’s writing has spanned a variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, but she is best known for her short fiction. In 2001, she published her first collection of short stories, Dark Roots, to critical acclaim. Her latest collection of short stories, Like a House on Fire, was shortlisted for the prestigious Stella prize in 2013. Cate Kennedy teaches creative writing in schools and Universities across Australia. She lives on a farm on the Broken River in North-East Victoria.
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Historical Context of Little Plastic Shipwreck

“Little Plastic Shipwreck” broaches the topic of the mistreatment of intelligent animals in marine parks. This reflects the mounting controversy around Seaworld (in Orlando, Florida), where a captive orca named Tilikum was involved in the death of three people between 1991 and 2010, sparking discussions about the conditions of marine parks and the ethics of keeping large intelligent animals, such as orcas and dolphins, in captivity. This may have influenced Kennedy’s decision to make Declan’s callous attitude towards Samson central to her story. In addition, Little Plastic Shipwreck addresses some of the issues associated with contemporary capitalism, including consumerism and job insecurity. The story’s publication coincided with a period of general economic decline between the late 2000s and early 2010s, known as the Great Recession. Kennedy’s portrait of a dilapidated business struggling to keep afloat, as well as of a protagonist working a job he hates in order to support himself and his wife through a medical catastrophe, reflects this economic and social climate in subtle ways.

Other Books Related to Little Plastic Shipwreck

In a 2006 interview, Cate Kennedy cites two other Australian authors whose work has had an influence on her own: Peter Carey and Tim Winton. Peter Carey is a novelist and the author of two short story collections, The Fat Man in History (1974) and War Crimes (1979). Tim Winton is a novelist, playwright and author of six short story collections, including On Her Knees (2004) and The Turning (2005). Like Winton and Carey, Kennedy’s works often reflect a contemporary Australian cultural context. In the same interview, she also mentions authors of American fiction between the early and mid-twentieth century, including John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath, 1939), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960) and Ray Bradbury (Farenheit 451, 1953). Like Kennedy, these writers all created fiction that reflected and commented on aspects of the world around them: for John Steinbeck, the Great Depression; for Harper Lee, racism in the deep south; and for Ray Bradbury, the horror of World War II. American fiction during this period was also largely characterized by a restrained, observational writing style and realistic dialogue, the influence of which is noticeable in Kennedy’s own writing
Key Facts about Little Plastic Shipwreck
  • Full Title: Little Plastic Shipwreck
  • When Written: Unknown
  • Where Written: Melbourne, Australia
  • When Published: 2012
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: The story largely takes place at Oceanworld, a dilapidated marine park
  • Climax: Roley quits his job in a gesture of protest against his boss’ cruel attitude towards the deceased star dolphin at Oceanworld
  • Antagonist: Declan
  • Point of View: Close 3rd person, tied to Roley’s perspective

Extra Credit for Little Plastic Shipwreck

Culture shock in her own country: Kennedy’s disillusionment with contemporary Western culture was largely sparked by her experience working with incredibly poor farmers and their families in rural Mexico. Upon returning to Melbourne, she suffered culture shock at being back in her own country, as described in the memoir Sing and Don’t Cry (2005): “I'm here, and there's no getting round it. My culture, with its dumb, neurotic obsessions, its sickening surfeits, its dreadful, overfed narcissism, its blind, smug, dopey acquiescence. I can hardly bear to be in my skin.”

Lucky Break: One of the proudest moments of Kennedy’s career was when her short story “Black Ice” was published in the prestigious New Yorker magazine in 2006. She had submitted the same story to Australian journals three or four times and faced rejections each time. Kennedy said that this was a lesson to her that there’s a time and place for every short story; it just sometimes takes a while to find it.