In “Little Plastic Shipwreck,” Cate Kennedy sets up an opposition between the way things really are and the people want to present things. The shining, glamorous, happy place that Oceanworld advertises sits in sharp contrast with the bleak and decrepit reality of the park. Furthermore, Declan’s persona as the enthusiastic, knowledgeable and compassionate dolphin trainer poses a stark opposition to his shallow and rather cruel personality outside of this role. Through this series of oppositions, revealed through the point of view of Roley, the grieving protagonist, Cate Kennedy suggests that underneath the seductive artifices that humans construct, there is a bleak and cold reality that can’t be escaped.
Roley describes how Oceanworld, though decrepit, presents a glittering façade to draw in audiences. Kennedy describes “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.” This description suggests that the practice of advertising something far brighter than the truth is not specific to the marine park, but is instead widespread. Roley’s duties also emphasize how gritty Oceanworld really is. Kennedy writes that Roley must “break shards of packed dead fish out of the freezer and get them into buckets, and wipe away the wriggling lines the catfish made as they sucked their way through algae on the insides of the big glass tanks.” Through the urgency with which Declan commands Roley to deal with Samson the dolphin’s dead body (“get it into the freezer room so nobody sees it when we open the gates,”) and the horror of the implied image of visiting children stumbling across the body of a dead dolphin, Kennedy suggests that often, people may not even be aware of the darker truths that exist just beyond their perception.
Kennedy epitomizes this disconnect between surface and reality through Declan’s performance during the dolphin show, which goes against Roley’s knowledge of his true character. Declan coldly refers to Samson the dolphin as “it,” instructing Roley upon Samson’s death to “cut it up.” Meanwhile, during the show, he waxes lyrical about “the special bond between humans and dolphins, how he'd trained the dolphins here at Oceanworld, how they could divine his moods.” This creates a sharp contrast between Declan’s performed persona and his real character. Furthermore, Declan’s language during the performance is characterized by all capitals, exclamation marks, and rhetorical questions, suggesting a false enthusiasm. Indeed, Roley calls this persona “that golly-gee voice he put on.” But outside of the show, Declan’s dialogue characterized by short, cold remarks that are “spat” rather than said. Even Roley is complicit in the construction of artifice: it is his job during the dolphin performance to put his hand to the bucket of fish, prompting Samson to jump out of the water. The audience is supposed to believe that Samson is responding instead to Declan gesturing towards the water “like a game-show host.” The allusion to a well-known display of shallowness and artifice—the game show—further emphasizes how deceptive this moment is.
Despite the story’s emphasis on Declan’s duplicity, Kennedy ultimately suggests that everyone engages in this kind of deception sometimes. Roley sees parents willfully deceive their children, who ask about the repeated actions of the old sea-lion: “'What's he doing?' kids would ask as they watched him, and their parents would look grimly for a few moments and then answer, 'Playing.’” Through this example, Kennedy suggests that glossing over unpleasant truths is intrinsic to human nature, not just a strategic business practice. Furthermore, Roley’s recollection of a time when he heard “real laughter” from the audience at the popular dolphin show suggests there are many times when he’s heard fake laughter. That is, the audience doesn’t just consume the false joy of Oceanworld; it helps create it.
Through the example of Oceanworld and its particularly duplicitous lead trainer, Declan, Kennedy presents the grim notion that creating artifice to disguise bleak realities is a pervasive part of human behavior. What’s more, the story suggests that something dark is always lurking underneath happy surfaces, even when human don’t actively try and hide it; after all, Liz’s devastating injury occurs during a casual gathering of close friends. No matter how seemingly pleasant the situation, Kennedy seems to argue, the potential for horror is always close at hand.
Artifice vs. Reality ThemeTracker
Artifice vs. Reality Quotes in Little Plastic Shipwreck
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.
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!”