Sleepers

by

Cate Kennedy

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Ray, the protagonist of the story, is a 35-year-old single man with no children who works part-time at a warehouse. He was previously in a romantic relationship with Sharon and seems to still have feelings for her even though she broke up with him. Like many of the town’s other residents, he complains about the lack of jobs provided by the construction project but makes little effort to find work. Similarly, he considers both his current job at the warehouse and a previous one as a road flagger to be meaningless work, in which there is no point in doing more than the bare minimum that the job requires. This lack of ambition is a defining characteristic of his personality and was a major point of tension between him and Sharon during their relationship. Although they lived together, she was the breadwinner in the relationship and paid the rent. She badgered him with requests such as landscaping their lawn, which he rebuffed, not believing it to be worth the effort. After Sharon broke up with him for his lack of motivation and forced him to move out, Ray moved into a shed on a friend’s property. This arrangement was intended to be temporary, but he never took further initiative to find independent housing and has lived there since. To cope with his pitiful situation, he drinks heavily, and his health has deteriorated as a result. In the capitalistic environment of the story, Ray’s lack of drive causes him to be rejected and outcompeted, both as a romantic partner and as a worker. After dreaming of Sharon with her new partner, Ray finally resolves to make an effort to steal the sleepers, initially hoping to surprise Sharon with a landscaped yard but eventually deciding to keep them for building his own garden. However, his actions ultimately come too late, both for improving his life and for repairing his relationship with Sharon. He is caught in the act by the police and is presumably arrested.

Ray Quotes in Sleepers

The Sleepers quotes below are all either spoken by Ray or refer to Ray. 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:
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribe edition of Sleepers published in 2012.
Sleepers Quotes

The road worker aimed his mirrored and shadowed gaze at Ray as he drove past and gave a wave that had been reduced to its bare minimum: a single, slow-motion finger lifted in acknowledgement that here was one man passing another man who was pretending to be doing a job of work, bored shitless and leaning on a one-word sign. Ray raised a finger off the wheel in response, glancing at the expressionless face and looking away again. Didn't know him.

Related Characters: Ray, The Road Worker
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

“See, if that contractor was a local,” said Vince, “anyone could go and help themselves to some of them for firewood. Anyone at all.”

“Not these bastards. They'll be selling them on to some other subcontractor, any money. That's why they've got that barrier round them. They tender for these jobs and they screw the last cent out of 'em. That's the way they do business.” Frank, who hadn't worked for fourteen months.

Related Characters: Vince (speaker), Frank (speaker), Ray
Related Symbols: Sleepers
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Ray nodded. He'd seen gardens himself, of course, edged with old redgum sleepers. It was just the kind of thing Sharon had always been on his back to do, landscaping the garden.

“Why do it,” he'd argued, “when we're just renting?”

“Ray,” she'd said, exhaling a breath of resigned frustration. He'd waited for an answer, but she'd only repeated it as she'd turned away. “Ray, Ray, Ray.” Almost tenderly.

And him standing there, stranded, never knowing what she was going to want next.

Related Characters: Ray (speaker), Sharon (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sleepers
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

“I guess,” said Ray. Inside the opaque layers of shrink-wrapped plastic on the pallet, he could see stacked ornamental Buddha statues. It was like gazing into a submerged shipwreck, crammed full of calmly waiting monks.

[…]

Ray lifted his knife and sliced through plastic, breathing in the chemical, sealed breath of some factory floor in China.

Related Characters: Ray (speaker), Bernie
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

At Steve's barbeque that night, he walked up and down the brand-new paved barbeque area, bordered by lines of sleepers. Set at intervals in the freshly shovelled topsoil were small clumps of perennials, which reminded Ray somehow of a hair transplant.

“It looks great,” he called, feeling Steve's eyes on him.

There must have been something wrong with him, some bug he had—how else to explain that bottomed-out energy, the sapped, exhausted feeling as he watched Steve turning steaks on the grill? He'd go and have a check-up. A blood test.

“A rustic border,” Steve was saying. Full of focus and purpose, pressing here and there on the meat with the tongs. “That's going to grow in no time.”

Ray swatted a mosquito in the dusk, racking his brain for something to respond with. Nothing.

“We'll have a pool in here next,” Steve added. “Get rid of the lawn altogether. Just an outdoor entertainment area. You right there, Ray?”

“Yeah, good.”

Related Characters: Ray (speaker), Steve (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sleepers
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

He'd driven past Sharon's house tonight and seen a car in the drive he didn't recognise. He couldn't stop thinking about it; his brain was like a dog jerking on the end of its chain over and over, returning to it. So that'd be the thing to do—get chatting to someone else, let word get back to Sharon that he was out there, available, a catch, on his feet. But even though he could feel those eyes on him (car in her drive, that convulsive choke in his throat as he circled it again), he sat back down with his laden plate on one of the sleepers instead, because the thought of trying to get a conversation going with any of them felt like heavy lifting. And they knew all about him anyway; a 35-year-old man who lived in a Colorbond shed at a mate's place, not exactly unemployed but a part-time storeman. A liability, not a catch.

Related Characters: Ray, Sharon
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

“Hey, Ray,” a voice was calling him. Steve's teenage son. Scott. Sam. Something.

“Come and check this out,” the boy said, beckoning Ray over to a big black telescope on a tripod, pointed straight up into the night sky.

“Not quite dark enough yet, Sean,” Steve called from the grill, scooping meat and sausages up onto a platter. “Wait till it's dark and I'll show you how to adjust it properly.”

Ray stooped and squinted through the lens.

“I think it's Mars,” said Sean.

The smell of him—grass and sunscreen, sweat and energy, all of it barely contained—registered in Ray's head with a sudden painful awareness. This shortness of breath, the pressure on his chest…He thought of his old man's heart attack, the way he'd staggered crabwise across the lounge room, his arm out, wordless. Take him five weeks to get a doctor's appointment, anyway. He'd ring tomorrow.

Related Characters: Steve (speaker), Sean (speaker), Ray
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Turning the keys in the ignition in his car, he fought the impulse to go home via the house again, check if the car was still there. Up his old street, the same streetlight broken, up to the driveway that he used to pull in to every night, taking that normalcy for granted. His ute bumping up over the kerb and the sensor light snapping on as Ray got out of the car in his loser shorts, running to flab, any fool could see that. Then Sharon's silhouette in the ridged glass of the front door, her and whoever was there with her. He saw her put both her hands up to the glass to peer through its distorting ripples at him.

Don't worry, he heard her saying, her voice muffled, it's just Ray, seeing him for exactly what he was; he could hear that in her tone. Her right arm lifted and snapped off the sensor light impatiently, leaving him there in the dark, and the shapes of the two of them rippled and shifted as they stepped back from the door, Ray thinking he would never forget this one moment as their shadows swam together out of the light.

He opened his eyes and saw he was still sitting in his ute outside Steve's place, his hands slack on the steering wheel.

Related Characters: Ray, Sharon, Steve
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

Ray stretched as he stood, his spine cracking. In the back he found himself a pair of gloves, let down the tailgate, and here came the moon, sailing out from behind a cloud, ready to help him. Sean, if he was still up, would be able to see every crater on that surface, it was so clear. Ray ducked under the orange flags and tugged at a sleeper, pushed and pulled it free, dragged it over to the ute and heaved it in with a grunt. Easy. Another one. Another. He'd only need ten. Some people he knew had taken dozens of the things. It felt good, even though it was the middle of the night, to be working up a sweat. Cold oxygen in his lungs prickling like stars, clearing his fogged head finally.

Related Characters: Ray, Sean
Related Symbols: Sleepers
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

And as he turned, squinting in their sudden highbeam, his chest squeezing, all that false warmth descending into his boots, he knew that they wouldn't bother with their siren, because they could see that it was just him. Just Ray. They knew he'd turn around like this, and take what was coming to him. Because they need an example, he thought wearily as he peeled off his gloves, the realisation flaring like a little chunk of burning rock, a tiny meteor.

What was the word? An escape-goat? Nowhere to put the gloves, so Ray threw them onto the ute tray, and missed. The cops' headlights casting big crooked shadows.

He waited there for them, next to the sleepers, lowering his bare hands for comfort onto weathered, solid old redgum, hauled up and discarded but with so much life in it, still, it just broke your heart to see it go to waste.

Related Characters: Ray
Related Symbols: Sleepers
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Sleepers LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sleepers PDF

Ray Character Timeline in Sleepers

The timeline below shows where the character Ray appears in Sleepers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sleepers
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
On his morning commute in a small town, Ray encounters traffic caused by construction at the town’s main railroad crossing. The track upgrade, in... (full context)
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
As he pulls up to a road worker directing traffic to a detour, Ray remembers waiting similarly at a construction site with his then-girlfriend Sharon. She had spoken condescendingly... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Ray’s focus returns to the present, where the detour points him past a boarded-up hotel and... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
In the late afternoon, Ray is at the pub with his friends Frank and Vince when he first hears about... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
On their way home, Ray and Vince drive past a construction site and see piles of sleepers with only a... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Over the next two weeks, it seems everyone Ray encounters expresses interest in the sleepers and “a sudden professed desire to landscape.” At work,... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Ray cuts open a shrink-wrapped pallet containing Buddha statues and reflects that it looks like “a... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
That night, Ray attends a barbecue at his friend Steve’s home. The backyard is freshly paved and landscaped... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
As Ray gets up to fill his plate with food, he thinks about the “heavy squeezing [sensation]... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
Ray thinks about how this temporary home in his friend’s shed, where he was going to... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Steve’s son Sean calls Ray over to look at Mars through a telescope. Despite the fact that Ray has been... (full context)
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Later, Ray gets in his car and thinks about driving past Sharon’s home again and pulling into... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
When Ray opens his eyes again, he realizes that he’s still in his car parked outside of... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
When Ray arrives at the construction site, his plan changes from winning Sharon back with the sleepers... (full context)
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
While Ray is in the middle of loading sleepers, a police car silently shines its lights on... (full context)