Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Careful,” Raymond Carver focuses on the details of a specific, small situation, giving little information about such matters as locale, the year of the action, or the occupations of the participants, except for Mrs. Matthews, who is Lloyd’s landlady.

Carver is concerned in this story with the theme of regression to infantilism. Because the story is not set in a definite locale or in a definite time frame, the focus is on the tawdry apartment to which Lloyd has moved and on the two major characters in the story. Readers learn that the ceilings of the apartment seem to close in on Lloyd, that he does not have a telephone, that the furnished apartment has minimal housekeeping facilities, including a broken-down television, which he plays all day and all night, keeping the volume turned down. One gets the feeling that the apartment is a sort of womb into which Lloyd has retreated.

When his ear becomes clogged with wax, Lloyd has difficulty hearing, and his visit with his wife recalls the silent television images that usually inhabit the apartment with Lloyd. If Lloyd has a job, that information is not revealed. Because he is sitting home alone at eleven o’clock in the morning, one would assume that he is not employed.

Lloyd thinks back to his old teacher who warned children about putting things in their ears. The word “careful” occurs six times in the story (once as “carefully”) and recalls what mothers and primary...

(The entire section is 487 words.)