Sleepers

by

Cate Kennedy

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Sleepers Symbol Analysis

Sleepers Symbol Icon

The titular sleepers, which are wooden supports under the rails of railroad tracks, symbolize the invasion of capitalism—and the aggressive competition capitalism creates—into Ray’s sleepy, small town. When a large construction project on railroad tracks commences, the contractors start piling up the discarded sleepers, thus creating a competition to seize and make use of them. The project’s contractors, who are from out of town, view the sleepers as a potential source of more profit, while the local residents see them as a resource that ought to be shared freely. Ray’s friend Vince laments that “if that contractor was a local […] anyone could go and help themselves to some of them for firewood. Anyone at all.” Frank, a local resident who has been unemployed for over a year, adds, “Not these bastards. They’ll be selling [the sleepers] on to some other subcontractor, any money. […] They tender for these jobs and they screw the last cent out of ‘em. That’s the way they do business.”

By treating the sleepers as a source of profit, the contractors influence the town to begin doing the same. The financially and romantically successful residents, such as Steve and Sharon, have either managed to steal some of the sleepers or have ambitions to do so, using them to further improve their homes and lives (using the sleepers as firewood, fencing around gardens, etc.). Meanwhile, marginalized and unemployed residents like Ray do not successfully obtain any sleepers, deepening the apparent inequality between the two groups. Even though Ray eventually makes an attempt to join the rat race and steal a few sleepers for himself, he is too late to the competition and is caught by the police, emphasizing the need to be opportunistic and aggressive in the town’s increasingly capitalistic environment. And although many residents have succeeded in stealing a great number of sleepers, this is hardly a loss for the contractors—any profit from the discarded sleepers is only a bonus for the contractors, who are already backed by millions of dollars. This small-scale competition for the sleepers is representative of the larger competition for all resources under a capitalist economy, where those with more resources usually win the important competitions while the rest fight over trivial ones.

Sleepers Quotes in Sleepers

The Sleepers quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sleepers. 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

“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:

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:

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

Sleepers Symbol Timeline in Sleepers

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sleepers appears in Sleepers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sleepers
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
...pub with his friends Frank and Vince when he first hears about the old railroad sleepers that are being removed by the construction crew. According to Frank, who has been unemployed... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
...their way home, Ray and Vince drive past a construction site and see piles of sleepers with only a token perimeter of flags to protect them. Vince predicts that the locals... (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, Ray’s coworker Bernie boasts about grabbing... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
...a barbecue at his friend Steve’s home. The backyard is freshly paved and landscaped with sleepers and clumps of flowers, an arrangement that Ray likens to a hair transplant but tells... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...many beers he had that night. Suddenly, he has the “crap idea” to steal some sleepers and surprise Sharon with them the next day. His mind skips over the logistics of... (full context)
Capitalism and Competition Theme Icon
Hopelessness and Apathy Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...Ray arrives at the construction site, his plan changes from winning Sharon back with the sleepers to keeping them for himself to chop up for firewood and landscape a vegetable garden... (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 him. He turns around and suddenly feels... (full context)