Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Raymond Carver’s story bears many calculated, ironic resemblances to Plato’s Symposion (388-368 b.c.e.; Symposium, 1701), a dialogue meant to showcase Socrates’ views on love. Carver uses the same frame that Plato does, that of a friend recounting a story. Carver, however, twists this frame, which is meant to give added validity to the opinions expressed in Symposium, to suit his own more ironic purposes. Among these is that trying to understand the nature of love through talk is at best a tale twice removed from its own point. In Symposium, Socrates walks away from a table of drunken, sleeping men whom he has bested with his wisdom, but in Carver’s story a drunken Mel pours his gin out on the table, then sits in silence and darkness. Mel, an ironic Socrates, has bested no one and has not successfully defended his ideas about love. No one, least of all Mel, is able to walk away after the discussion is over. They are all too drunk. Mel is unable to arrive at any statement wiser than “gin’s gone.”
One of Carver’s themes is that talking about love does not bring people any closer to understanding the experience of love. This idea is complemented by the ironic implication that talking about love seemingly inevitably involves telling stories of lovers’ entanglements or situations filled with gruesome extremes. Carver cleverly dramatizes a philosophical point made by Socrates in...
(The entire section is 315 words.)
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Carver gives his readers little help in abstracting themes from his minimalist stories. Their plots center on helplessness and loneliness, violence and suffering and loss. "After the Denim" shows a husband and wife as persistent losers. They lose repeatedly at public bingo games, and they lose more terribly when the woman contracts a deadly and ominously unnamed disease. The story implies that life is menacing and destructive, a chancy game of inevitable loss and suffering. Another illustration of Carver's vision appears in "Popular Mechanics," which describes a divorcing couple's fight over their baby boy. Each parent refuses to let go of the child, and he screams with fright and pain as they wrench him back and forth. The story literalizes the devastating effects divorce and separation have on children, metaphorically tearing them apart. The violence of the story becomes an image for the catastrophic consequences of marital disharmony.
A general theme throughout the collection is an inability of human beings to solve their problems, coupled with an endemic frustration that fuels their unhappiness and corrodes their lives. "Viewfinder" depicts a man bereft of his family visited by a photographer whose hands are hooks. He, too, has been abandoned by his family. After taking twenty pictures, the photographer leaves. The owner of the house is seen standing on his roof hurling rocks into the distance. "Gazebo," tells the story of a couple who, although...
(The entire section is 266 words.)
The central theme of this story is love. The two couples spend the evening drinking gin and discussing the nature of ‘‘real love.’’ The narrator explains that ‘‘we somehow got on the subject of love.’’ It is Mel who insists on returning to the topic of love. He believes that ‘‘love was nothing less than spiritual love.’’ They then turn to the topic of Terri’s abusive former husband Ed, who eventually shot himself in the head and died. Terri and Mel, both of them married for the second time, debate whether or not Ed really loved Terri. She claims that Ed ‘‘loved her so much he tried to kill her.’’ Mel insists that ‘‘that’s not love.’’
Mel eventually describes to them an example of what he considers to be ‘‘real love,’’ the old couple who had nearly died in a car accident. This conversation about, as Mel puts it, ‘‘what we talk about when we talk about love’’ is many-layered, however. While they discuss the topic, getting drunker all the while, Terri and Mel exhibit an increasingly menacing tone to their interactions with one another. Although they are soft-spoken and civil on the surface, they express a deep-seated anger and resentment toward one another. The narrator, Nick, meanwhile, clearly perceives his relationship with his wife Laura as one of real love, and their warm, affectionate, harmonious interactions with one another seem to demonstrate this. However, as...
(The entire section is 870 words.)