What is the theme of Raymond Carver's short story "Sixty Acres"?
Raymond Carver is the minimalist author of the short story "Sixty Acres," a story set in the Lower Valley of the Yakima Indian Reservation in Washington. A popular area for duck hunting, the area's history is fraught with the sad mistakes of the Indians selling their land to white farmers and duck clubs. This tragic history of the loss of their land is the grounding of "Sixty Acres."
When Lee Waites gets the phone call again about hunters encroaching upon his land, he is reluctant to answer the call. Wishing that Joseph Eagle, the old Indian who sits and watches the land would do something besides call him, Waites reluctantly dons his coat and hat and takes his truck to where the hunters are. Dilatory in his mission, he waits for the grader to pass by; when he finds the hunters' car, he sits in the truck waiting. "He had not been down there to do anything in four or five years."
As he delays, Lee Waites [notice the surname!] recalls the deaths of his two brothers who would have shared the sixty acres with him. Finally, he gets out of the truck and the hunters return. As his legs shake, Waites confronts the boys, but lets them off. Returning home, Waits ponders what has happened. Yes, he has put the boys off his land,
yet he could not understand why he felt something crucial had happened, a failure.
he is relieved that his sons are asleep, for they will be disappointed that he has done no more than run off the interlopers. Inside the small house, he feels that there "was never a place to go." As he explains what has happened to his wife, Waites scrutinizes a "brown mesh of a gill net wrapped around the prongs of a salmon spear." He glances at his old mother, but the black eyes merely stare. With foreboding, Waites feels "as if it had happened, whatever it was." Again he looks at the salmon spear; then, he tells his wife that he is considering leasing the land to a duck hunting club, for it could bring them a thousand dollars. Worried that they will lose the land and wondering what the mother will think, the wife is reassured with Waites's words, "It's just a lease." However, Lee Waites feels that the room's floor is slanting as though the house were sinking.
With the subtle details of the dog's disappointment in not going hunting with Waites, his failure to check on his land in years, the old salmon spear hanging useless upon the wall, and the old mother, silent and staring, Carver conveys the loss of dignity that Lee Waites suffers. Now, he is about to sacrifice the dignity of his family, the legacy of his father, the precious land of his Native American people.