“The 400 Pound CEO” Summary by George Saunders: Plot Synopsis

“The 400 Pound CEO” is a short story by George Saunders from his 1996 collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. It was first published in Harper’s in 1993. Here’s a full synopsis of the story.

“The 400-Pound CEO” Plot Summary

Jeffrey works for Humane Racoon Alternatives. Claude executes the new arrivals with a tire iron and dumps them into a pit, which is across the street from the office. Jeffrey writes up the invoices and makes up stories of how happy the racoons were after being released into nature. He also reassures clients on the phone. The ruthless CEO, Tim, is an ex-con who ran over someone on purpose. He earned his MBA inside and made money with a light-up brooch.

Jeffrey is 400 pounds and unsuccessful with women. His workmates and boss openly mock him. He was highly attracted to a workmate, Freeda, but it went nowhere. He would indulge in viewing adult material. Last Christmas, he renounced lust and tries to be a force for good.

He sometimes feels angry because his workmates don’t really know him, and life should offer more than it does. Freeda is on his mind again, but he knows she’s repulsed by him. Freeda wants to be home with her son, Len, more but can’t afford it. The babysitter she has is irresponsible.

The 400 Pound CEO Summary by George SaundersPlot Synopsis
“The 400 Pound CEO” Summary

Jeffrey invites her out to dinner to commiserate. She rebuffs him rudely and tells their coworkers about it. They have a good laugh at him. When everyone is gone, Freeda comes by, accepts the date and compliments him. Jeffrey is overjoyed.

He uses his savings to buy extravagant gifts for Len and picks up Freeda at eight. The babysitter isn’t watching Len properly.

Jeffrey and Freeda go to a Hawaiian themed restaurant whose owner has mild Tourette’s. Jeffrey hardly eat and Freeda dominates the conversation. He walks her home. Everything has gone well and he might get a kiss.

On the porch, Freeda reveals that Tim agreed to pay her phone bill if she would be seen in public with Jeffrey.

Jeffrey takes a week of vacation and plays video games. When he goes back he gets the teasing he expected and Freeda is remorseless. He’s hurt but continues with his work. If only he could stop hoping.

Jeffrey volunteers for the Carlisle case to get out of the office. The Carlisles are rich and have a racoon problem. Jeffrey gives them the spiel about humane treatment and the racoon’s upcoming happy release into a paradise.

He captures one after midnight and the Carlisles come out to look. Jeffrey is attacked by the racoon’s mate; it bites his calf badly and hangs on. Jeffrey kicks it to death against his wheelwell, while the Carlisles watch, aghast.

After being treated at the hospital, Jeffrey calls Tim who berates him for his performance, and reminds him of a man he beat badly with a blackjack. Jeffrey doesn’t know why he expects decent treatment from someone with a torture chamber in the office basement. He’s seen Tim bringing willing women and witnessed his nasty behavior. He’s glad he’s not cruel.

The next day, Tim is inducted into the Rotary Club and gives a hypocritical speech. Jeffrey is put in charge of keeping the plaque shiny.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey and Claude are throwing the Carlisle racoons into the pit. A woman arrives, takes notes and photos, and retrieves some bones from the pit.

Tim is furious and brandishes his blackjack, threatening to use it on her if she shows up again. They can’t use the pit anymore. They’ll have to store the remains on ice at the office for now. He sends Jeffrey out to get some coolers.

When Jeffrey returns the office is empty. He hears activity from the basement and Tim comes up the stairs, upset. Jeffrey hides. Tim is angry because Freeda was no fun, and he storms off. Jeffrey reveals his presence. Freeda’s bruised but looks radiantly happy and says she can’t get enough of him. Stunned, Jeffrey walks home, forgetting his car.

“The 400-Pound CEO” Summary, Cont’d

Jeffrey agrees to work late on Wednesday. Just after seven, Tim angrily runs outside with his blackjack. Looking out the window, Jeffrey sees the woman at the pit.

He quickly follows and, despite his weight, manages to keep up, surreptitiously staying in the shadows. As the woman struggles up the slope with her camcorder, Tim swings at her. Jeffrey is able to block it on his wrist, breaking a bone. He puts Tim in a bearhug and tells the woman to run.

Tim drops the blackjack but Jeffrey doesn’t let go. He squeezes with all his might, killing Tim. He’s going to turn himself in but realizes there’s nothing to gain by it. He saved an innocent woman and Tim was a terrible person. He doesn’t care about lofty ideals, he cares about protecting himself.

He rolls Tim into the pit, covering him with lime and dirt. He forges a letter from Tim, saying he’s gone on a desert meditation retreat. He apologizes to Freeda. He turns control of the business over to himself.

Jeffrey sleeps in his car and dreams of Tim in the afterlife. In the morning he goes to the pit, confirming it all really happened. He cries for the person he used to be.

Inside, he feigns surprise at the letter. There’s doubt around Tim’s sudden change of heart, but they decide to give Jeffrey a chance as boss.

He moves into Tim’s office. He orders catered prime rib and violinists for the office. Claude is outraged at the wastefulness and wants to be made boss. Jeffrey fires Claude. The good times continue into the night with entertainment and drinks. Jeffrey announces policy changes—they’ll run the company the way they claim they are and there’ll be fun and benefits for employees.

Claude returns with the police. Tim’s car was still there and he found the body. Jeffrey is taken away.

In court, Jeffrey tells the truth and the animal right’s woman corroborates what happened. Jeffrey admits he lost control. He’s given fifty years.

Jeffrey knows misery in prison. He’s claimed by a powerful inmate for carnal use. He’s mocked and has his food stolen. No one on the outside contacts him. He believes God favors perfect people and punishes the others. He’s made it so we can’t be happy.

Still, Jeffrey tries to behave with dignity. Maybe there’s a subGod in charge right now and he’ll be remove when God returns. Jeffrey’s difficult, lonely life will be acknowledged. Maybe he’ll be reborn as a sleeker person, a winner.

I hope this plot summary of “The 400-Pound CEO” was helpful.