Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story, one of the last that Carver wrote, is quite unlike his usual portrayals of life among ordinary contemporary Americans. Instead, Carver has used many of the details of Chekhov’s last days to make a story that is part biography and part fiction. As the story progresses, Carver indicates the material he drew from letters and journals of Chekhov’s relatives and acquaintances. At the same time, he adds material such as the hotel employee in order to give the story texture and thematic focus.

Although this story, with its foreign setting and its historical detail, differs from Carver’s usual work, its style is what Carver’s readers have come to expect. Carver’s sentences are bare; he uses relatively little modification, with the result that he sometimes seems rather distanced from his characters. It is his minute observation of detail that gives the story its emotional impact. The story deals with death and alienation, themes that inform much of Carver’s work. At the end, the reader is moved by Chekhov’s death partly because of his wife’s tender devotion to him, partly because Chekhov is so little able to confront it, and partly because the man and his work remain so unknowable to the rest of the world—here suggested by the hotel employee, the very sort of person about whom Carver usually wrote. That the artist who interprets the lives of others must himself remain a mystery is an irony that surely Carver relished.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Widely considered the father of the short story form, Chekhov was perhaps the biggest literary influence of Carver's life. Critics frequently...

(The entire section is 561 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
In "Errand" Carver employs an omniscient narrator who, in word choice, tone, and perspective, embodies the voice...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1904: Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard opens. Chekhov, age 44, dies later in the year.

2000: The popularity...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Compare Chekhov's short stories to Carver's, especially those included in Carver's collection Where I'm Calling From. Write an essay...

(The entire section is 202 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

Director Robert Altman adapted nine of Carver's stories and a prose poem for the screen in the motion picture Short Cuts (1993).


(The entire section is 38 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Where I'm Calling From, published in 1988, is the collection of short stories in which ' 'Errand'' appears. Carver died the year it...

(The entire section is 80 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Abrahams, William, ed., Prize Stories 1988: The O. Henry Awards, Doubleday, 1983.

Campbell, Ewing,...

(The entire section is 436 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bethea, Arthur F. Technique and Sensibility in the Fiction and Poetry of Raymond Carver. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Campbell, Ewing. Raymond Carver: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Gallagher, Tess. Soul Barnacles: Ten More Years with Ray. Edited by Greg Simon. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Halpert, Sam. Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Lainsbury, G. P. The Carver Chronotope: Inside the Life-World of Raymond Carver’s Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Nesset, Kirk. The Stories of Raymond Carver: A Critical Study. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1995.

Powell, Jon. “The Stories of Raymond Carver: The Menace of Perpetual Uncertainty.” Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Fall, 1994): 647-656.

Runyon, Randolph Paul. Reading Raymond Carver. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1992.

Saltzman, Arthur M. Understanding Raymond Carver. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Stull, William L., and Maureen P. Carroll, eds. Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Capra Press, 1993.