How is love shown in Carver’s story “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like so much in Carver's work, love is shown to be a complex issue.  I think that one of the fundamental distinctions made is that within its complexity lies different experiences.  Certainly, the experience of love is seen differently between both couples.  Nick and Laura are at a different point in their relationship and their lives that Terri and Mel.  On one hand, Nick and Laura feel that their relationship and their conception of love is a fine one.  Yet, there is a lack of depth to their feelings and sensations, one that indicates that there is an uncertainty about the nature of love present.  At the same time, Mel and Terri probe into the more frightening depths of love.  This is a subject that Mel continually drives back the conversation to at different points.  The reality is that as the conversation continues, Mel and Terri reflect an antagonism towards one another where there is an uncertainty about what love is.  Yet, at the same time, there is a dislike and a sense of disconnect about the fact that what their experience is with love is a painful one.  In this, one sees that love has little definition and little means to define it, but the painful experiences within it are real.  Carver might be suggesting that if there is a definition to love, it can only be defined by the pain and misery that is a part of it.  These experiences can be seen as "real" because they help define the reality of those who experience it.  Laura and Nick are not there, and they have not been able to accrue the experiences that might allow them to have a better idea of what love is.  However, as the evening wears on, the alcohol ends, and the silence is all there is, the reality is that the discussion of Terri and Mel might be something that Laura and Nick could be revisiting later on in their own formulation of experiences and understanding of what love is.

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