Little Plastic Shipwreck

by

Cate Kennedy

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Roley Character Analysis

The protagonist and narrator of the story, Roley works at Oceanworld where he cleans and cares for the animals. He is grieving on two accounts: first for his wife, Liz, whose recent brain injury has left her severely mentally impaired, and second for Oceanworld’s dolphin, Samson, whose death he discovers at the beginning of the story. Roley, recognizing Samson’s intelligence and affection, relates to the dolphin on a near-human level. This sets Roley apart from Declan, his boss and the lead dolphin trainer, who appears to value Samson only as a source of profit. Having lost both Samson and the person his wife used to be, Roley is an intensely lonely figure: there is only one other person in the story with whom he feels any affinity (Kaz, his co-worker), and even then, it is mentioned in passing as more a vague allyship than a friendship. The story reveals little about Roley before the accident, but the fact that his wife’s accident occurred at a party suggests that perhaps his loneliness and isolation throughout the story is a direct effect of his grief. Much of the story is told through his internal monologue: he reflects on the decrepit state of Oceanworld and the animals that live there, and suffers flashbacks to traumatic moments in his wife’s accident, operation, diagnosis, and rehabilitation. His reflections suggest a bleak and nihilistic view of the world, one perhaps shaped by loss. Though he defies Declan and quits his job over Declan’s inhumane treatment of Samson’s body, the sense of empowerment this grants him is short-lived. By the end of the story, Roley’s thoughts imply that he has lost everything: his wife, his friend, his job, and all hope.

Roley Quotes in Little Plastic Shipwreck

The Little Plastic Shipwreck quotes below are all either spoken by Roley or refer to Roley. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribe Publications edition of Little Plastic Shipwreck published in 2012.
Little Plastic Shipwreck Quotes

And Oceanworld, clearly, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy anyway; a sad cluster of concrete pools and enclosures surrounded on all sides by murals depicting a far bigger, shinier aquatic adventure park, like those billboards of sleek apartment blocks which were nailed up around the shabby prefab bunkers on building sites. It was only once you'd paid your money and clicked through the chrome turnstiles and properly looked around, scenting that whiff of rotten fish on the air, that you realised you'd been had.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

They hadn't taken any of her brain out, the doctors had explained to Roley; they were definite on that point. They'd put her in an induced coma until the brain swelling went down, then somehow pieced those sections of her skull back together. How did they do it? Riveting? Gluing? Roley had no idea. He imagined them with a tiny Black & Decker, a wisp of smoke rising, putting in a neat line of holes then stitching it with wire.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Liz
Related Symbols: The Snowdome
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Declan swore long and low when he came over and looked into the pool.

“Use the chains,” he said dismissively. “I reckon that thing weighs one hundred and fifty kilos. Haul it out and then drain the pool.”

“What will I do with him?” Roley couldn't help the personal pronoun, wasn't going to call Samson an “it.”

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Declan (speaker), Samson
Page Number: 186-187
Explanation and Analysis:

Roley would crouch at the edge of the platform, following Declan's repertoire of gestures and punchlines, the rhetorical questions (“And do you know WHY they breathe that way, kids? I'll tell you why!”) until he reached the point in the script where he'd say, “Well, now, a dolphin can stay underwater for up to FIFTEEN MINUTES, but luckily for us here today Samson can't wait to meet you!” and Roley would reach casually into the bucket and Samson would arc up like clockwork and break the surface, his calm, loving eye on Roley alone.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Samson, Declan
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

Roley had a theory that the reason visitors loved Samson so much was that he was the only creature at the aquarium who seemed to be able to create a facial expression, apart from the sea-lion Rex, whose eyes were so fogged over with milky-blue cataracts […] The turtles were totally vacant—they had the hateful, icy glare of an old drunk—and of course the fish had no expression whatsoever. Just looked at you as they cruised past, a vegetable with fins. No short-term memory, that's what Kaz said when he told her his theory. “That's the cliche, right?” she said, tapping the glass of one of the tanks. “Nothing going on. You put one in a fishbowl, and they start swimming around in circles, and every time it's like: Look, a little plastic shipwreck! Five seconds later: Look, a little plastic shipwreck!

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Samson, Liz
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

And the penguins, even the ones with the little tufty eyebrows, still had to quirk their whole heads even to convey a response. Mostly they just looked shifty. Gimleteyed, thought Roley, whatever that meant. Whatever gimlets were. Something ice-cold, anyway, that twisted in deep.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes at night he'd feel Liz's hand land uncertainly on him and graze back and forth. Like seagrass on a current, it felt to him, and just as random. He'd take her hand and imagine silvery bubbles escaping from their mouths, floating up towards the ceiling fan, him keeping his breaths measured and even.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Liz
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

They'd stepped through the sliding doors barred pointlessly with two chairs because the thing had no railing, and his lovely, witty wife, looking for a way to help out, had taken a heavy platter out there to pass around and, turning round to answer someone's stupid question, had stepped straight off the edge of the deck, falling to the ground below.

[…] “Nobody's fault,” Roley kept saying, breathing fast through his mouth, panting, he couldn't help it […] and every time he circled the stunned minute of what had happened, it hit him afresh, obliterating everything else so he had to learn it again, piece by piece.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Liz
Page Number: 193-194
Explanation and Analysis:

Roley looked at Samson's grey flank, noticing the nicks and cuts on it, the marks and old scars. He thought, sick with grief, about the way his wife's fingers sought out the small secret place under her hair where there was a tiny dent, still. He laid his hand on that flank, feeling its muscle, and he heard the moment waiting, and said into it, “You fucking do it.”

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Samson, Liz, Declan
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’m home early,” he said.

“Are you?” she replied.

“Can I get you anything?” he said, emptying his pockets onto the dining-room table, watching her stop and consider, slow as a tide turning.

“No,” she said finally, “there's nothing I want,” and Roley thought, that's right, there's nothing: want was what they had taken out of her, back when they were assuring him nothing was removed.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Liz
Related Symbols: The Ocean
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

“Here,” he said cheerfully, “I got you this.” He gave her one of the snowdomes, and as she held it he realised she was the first person he'd ever seen cradling one and not shaking it. She just held it obediently with that emptied, passive face, gazing at the plastic penguins inside.

What they should put in them, thought Roley, is a little brain, something to knock around uselessly in that bubble of fluid as snow swirled down ceaselessly and never stopped, while some big hand somewhere just kept on shaking.

Related Characters: Roley (speaker), Liz
Related Symbols: The Snowdome
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Roley Character Timeline in Little Plastic Shipwreck

The timeline below shows where the character Roley appears in Little Plastic Shipwreck. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Little Plastic Shipwreck
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
At the start of a shift at Oceanworld, Roley goes to “say hi” to Samson. He sees a “grey familiar shape” floating on the... (full context)
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
...mural depicts four “fit and shining” dolphins leaping in the air beside two bikini-clad women. Roley doubts that, with Samson gone, they’ll “bother to paint over” this mural. The mural’s depiction... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Roley recalls the moment when his wife, Liz, returned from the hospital after the accident she... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
When Roley went to the “Special Room” to meet with the surgeon, his own brain “hadn’t been... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
“Funny what did you in,” Roley thinks. The worst part wasn’t the “shaved head,” the “blanket stitch,” Liz’s “black eyes,” or... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Upon arriving home, Liz “had a hard time even finding the word for mirror.” Roley occasionally catches her running a hand over her face slowly “as if memorising its shape,”... (full context)
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Declan arrives at the side of the pool where Roley is still standing beside the dead body of Samson. Declan “dismissively” tells Roley to use... (full context)
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
...plural as if “nobody in the scattered audience noticed” that there was only one dolphin. Roley would follow Declan’s rehearsed spiel and wait for his cue to reach for the fish... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
Roley speculates that the reason visitors loved Samson so much was because “he was the only... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...the fish had “no expression whatsoever” and just “cruised past, a vegetable with fins.” When Roley voices this to Kaz, she recalls the cliché that goldfish are known for their short-term... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Roley’s reverie is broken by Declan telling him to “get the chains” once again. Roley suggests... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Kaz comes to help him move the body to the cool room, giving Roley a “tearful smile” as she goes to get towels to cover the body. She asks... (full context)
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
When Declan reached the point in his speech that was Roley’s cue to reach for the fish (“Who’s ready to say hello to him?”), he flung... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Despite that being the one day of work he had actually enjoyed, Roley was almost been fired. He asked for a second chance, wondering where else he would... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
These days, Roley “gently [wakes] [Liz] and [gets] her sorted” before work. At Oceanworld, his duties include breaking... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
...occurred at a friend’s party where they were celebrating the installation of a new Jacuzzi. Roley’s “lovely, witty wife” had been handing around a platter of food on the unfinished deck... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Roley is thinking about the accident as he goes into the cool room with Samson’s body.... (full context)
Hierarchy, Authority, and Compassion Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
On his way out, Roley grabs several plastic trinkets (“worthless junk”) from the gift shop, calling it his “severance pay,”... (full context)
Humans, Animals, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Artifice vs. Reality Theme Icon
As he enters into the house, Roley announces that he’s home early, and Liz responds, “are you?” He asks her if he... (full context)