In "Where I'm Calling From," why does J. P. tell the narrator his story about the well?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the central themes of this short story is alienation and loneliness, as experienced by both the narrator and J. P. In fact, Carver himself said that the collection this short story first appeared in, Cathedral, was a collection of "stories of our loneliness," where alienation and loneliness were governing themes throughout each of these tales. J. P.'s tale of the well therefore acts as a metaphor of that alienation and it also establishes that although both J. P. and the narrator are currently experiencing loneliness and alienation in the rehabilitation centre that is designed to separate them from reality, this is nothing new, and they have experienced alienation from life throughout their existence. J. P. describes the well as a scary place where he had "suffered all kinds of terror." The well had "left a lasting impression" because of the "circle of blue" that he could see at the top of the well. Notice the concluding remark the narrator makes about this experience:

In short, everything about his life was different for him at the bottom of that well. But nothing fell on him and nothing closed off that little circle of blue. Then his dad came along with a rope, and it wasn't long before J. P. was back in the world he'd always lived in.

Life, as symbolised in that "circle of blue," was separate from J. P. and something he could only look up at and contemplate from afar. This indicates the state of alienation that he has lived with his entire life, just like the narrator, both of whom suffer loneliness and exhibit alienation through their broken relationships and alcoholism. The story of the well therefore presents one of the main themes of this tale and shows its importance to the lives of all the characters.


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