Allusions to Christian Tradition
in Peter Carey's Fiction
PETER CAREY'S FICTION is rich in evocative imagery, so perhaps it should not surprise us that allusions to Christian tradition are a recurrent feature in his works. However, the use he makes of such allusions is intriguing, since it only rarely seems closely tied to the plots of the different novels, yet it appears to be removed from, and more subtle than, commonplace postmodern cleverness. Only in a few instances do the allusions to Christian lore and Bible stories add significantly to the thematic content of his works, but they nevertheless seem to contribute more than just stimulating imagery. The relative prominence of the allusions is striking also because Carey himself has described his own attitude to religion as markedly detached: “I feel I'm living without religion.”1 Why would the fiction of a writer who refers to himself as “an atheist”2 contain such a large number of references to Christianity?
I will argue that the use of Christian imagery in Carey's fiction can be seen as serving two different purposes. On the one hand, it might figure as a thematic feature, as it does in, for instance, Oscar and Lucinda. On the other hand, when the allusions seem to carry little or no thematic significance, they are to be regarded instead as narrational devices. In such cases, they are there
1 Ray Willbanks, “Peter Carey on The Tax Inspector and The Unusual Life of Tris-
tan Smith,” Antipodes 11.1 (1997): 12.
2 Eleanor Wachtel, “'We Really Can Make Ourselves Up': An Interview with Peter
Carey,” Australian and New Zealand Studies in Canada 9 (1993): 103.