Three Uneasy Pieces, Patrick White

The Screaming Potato. This is the title of the first of White’s uneasy pieces. Not just any screaming potato, but a particular one that reminds the protagonist of his mother who supposedly peeled “an economical potato.” White’s use of this description appears in the first line of this first story: “It has been said she peels an economical potato.” The conversational and conspiratorial tone sets the reader up for what follows in this short story, the potato a metaphor for life in so many way, partly reminiscent of Woolf’s mark on the wall!

For this protagonist, the potato is a reminder, an icon of memory through which he reflects upon his life and all that he has achieved, or failed to achieve. “We have all done a fair bit of gouging since then, in the name of morality and justice.” The reader is left in the dark – who are the “we” to whom the protagonist refers, how much time has passed and what was the justice that needed to be wrought?

There is an allusion to murder in this short piece: “O Lord, dispel our dreams, of murdered we did not commit – or did we?” that inspires readers to continue to wade through White’s awe inspiring prose.

Despite the text’s abstractness, I am guessing that the clue to unlocking meaning here can be found in this quote:

Again on the escalators … the screams bump and waver, swell, fade completely before the momentum of a life we’re supposed to be living, perhaps some of us actually are.

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