Raymond Carver’s Short Stories

Introduction

Raymond Carver was a famous short story writer who is most known for his ability to capture concepts of American life. His writings are typically centered upon common daily occurrences within the lives of average people. One of the main themes that run through Raymond Carver’s short stories is the theme of self-questioning.

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These themes may not always, and indeed rarely, offer any actual solutions beyond introducing the topic and providing enough discussion into the matter to encourage further thought. His characters may come from any walk of life but all have the common denominator of not yet having discovered all of the answers yet. This can be seen by looking at some of his short stories such as “Cathedral,” “Errands” and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” as well as some of his other writings such as the essays included in Casebook 1.

Discussion

From the beginning of “Cathedral,” the narrator acknowledges his feelings of nervousness and uneasiness about having a blind man in his house which effectively reveals his own inner blindness. He says, “And his being blind bothered me. My idea of blindness came from the movies. In the movies, the blind moved slowly and never laughed. Sometimes they were led by seeing-eye dogs” (168). In making this statement, the narrator is revealed to be a man blinded by ignorance because he can’t figure out an appropriate way of entertaining him. Throughout all of his considerations of the upcoming visit, the narrator’s thoughts are consistent in their lack of foundation and lack of reason. He’s shocked that a blind man might choose to keep a full beard and cannot imagine what else to talk about that doesn’t center upon the visual.

In the end, all he can think of to do is to turn on the television while he sits back and quietly studies the blind man. Thus, it is imagery that marks the difference between the two men as one thinks only in terms of pictures and the other, upon reflection, must admit that he really has no idea of what is meant by the word ‘cathedral’.

In encouraging the narrator to draw a cathedral together as a means of ‘showing’ the blind man what a cathedral is, the blind man manages to open the narrator’s eyes, and the reader’s as well, to the various ways in which the world might be seen differently. “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. ‘It’s really something,’ I said” (178). Through his participation in the evening, the narrator has had a transcendent experience that profoundly affects the way he understands his world. What he has learned exactly is not explicitly stated, but that he has had a profound experience is undeniable.

This sense of unresolved questioning is also apparent in Carver’s other stories. In “Errand,” for example, the focus is not so much on the dying of the famous author Chekhov, but is instead continuously directed to those individuals who are peripherally attached to him. These include Olga, Chekhov’s much younger wife; Dr. Schwohrer, the physician at Badenweiler; and the young waiter who brings up the champagne and is subsequently sent for the mortician.

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Each of these characters must eventually realize that they’ve come face to face with the mystery of death and each handles this realization differently. Dr. Schwohrer is able to recognize what he sees, including Chekhov’s own acceptance of the nearness of his end. He orders champagne not to celebrate Chekhov’s death but to acknowledge the significance of the event and to honor the achievements of the man still clinging to life.

There is a suggestion that Chekhov’s spirit, relieved of its physical strain, does a little celebrating of its own following death as it is just as the doctor prepares to leave that “the cork popped out of the champagne bottle; foam spilled down onto the table” (183) in a more celebratory fashion. Olga requests time alone with the body of her husband as a means of finally gaining the privacy and intimacy that were so often impossible when living with a man of her husband’s fame.

The young waiter is presumably undergoing his first experience of death judging by his somewhat shocked behavior as he follows Olga’s specific instructions to find the mortician. However, it is evidently an important experience as Carver indicates he will likely die soon himself as a part of the First World War. While no definitive conclusions are reached, the question of how one faces death is strongly addressed and introduced into the conversation.

In somewhat the same way, “What Do We Talk About…” introduces the philosophical concept of love without using quite such an intimate connection. As the four friends sit around discussing their different understandings of love, Mel tells the story of an old couple who barely survive a car crash and what he perceives to be the depth of emotion shared by these people. “The man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife” (194).

However, close consideration reveals another possible interpretation of the older man’s actions. The older woman’s thoughts and feelings are never revealed by Mel and the older man’s feelings of depression may be motivated more by bounds of possession more than bounds of love. At the same time, it is revealed that Tessie’s ideas of love are also founded largely on the concepts of possession through her assessment of her ex-boyfriend’s attachment to her and Mel is aware of an absence of feeling in his relationship with her. Again, though, once Carver gets his audience interested in the subject, he leaves the discovery of answers to the reader.

Conclusion

Although Carver may seem to be playing tricks with his audience in introducing concepts that are never actually explored, this is not the case. Within his essays he makes his position clear. While he does not feel it is in anyone’s best interest for authors to use tricks to ‘hook’ their audience, Carver insists that good writing needs to inspire the reader to higher levels of thought without operating on the presumption that the writer is any more or less knowledgeable about these esoteric elements of life. The only way to accomplish this is to tell stories that focus the microscope on everyday experience, shared understandings or subjects we tend to avoid.

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Works Cited

Carver, Raymond.

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