Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 563
“Neighbors” is one of the most puzzling and shocking stories in Carver’s collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? It focuses on Bill and Arlene Miller, a young couple who feel that the lives of their neighbors Harriet and Jim Stone are somehow brighter and fuller than their own. The...
(The entire section contains 563 words.)
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“Neighbors” is one of the most puzzling and shocking stories in Carver’s collection Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? It focuses on Bill and Arlene Miller, a young couple who feel that the lives of their neighbors Harriet and Jim Stone are somehow brighter and fuller than their own. The story begins when the Stones go on a trip and ask the Millers to look after their apartment and water the plants. When Bill begins routinely to perform this task, however, his visits to the apartment make him sexually aroused. Moreover, he begins to stay longer and longer in the apartment, taking trivial things such as cigarettes and a container of pills, and nibbling food from the refrigerator.
Bill’s fascination with the apartment becomes more bizarre when he secretly takes time off from work and slips in to spend the day alone there. He first tries on a pair of Bermuda shorts belonging to Jim Stone, then a brassiere and pair of panties belonging to Harriet. The story comes to a climax that evening when his wife goes over to the apartment and the reader discovers that she is similarly fascinated, telling her husband that she found some pictures in a drawer. Although the reader is not told what kind of pictures they are, one may assume they depict the secret life of the Stones. When the couple go back across the hall to their own apartment, they consider that maybe the Stones will not come back. When they discover that they have locked the key to the Stones’ apartment inside, they feel desperate.“Don’t worry,” he said into her ear. “For God’s sake, don’t worry.” They stayed there. They held each other. They leaned into the door as if against a wind, and braced themselves.
Typical of Carver’s early work, the story offers no explanation for the fascination the apartment holds for the young couple; the closest Carver will come to an explanation is Arlene saying, “It’s funny . . . to go in someone’s place like that,” to which her husband replies, “It is funny.” This is not a story about a sexually perverted couple; rather, it is a story about the fascination of visiting the secret inner reality of someone else and the excitement of temporarily taking on his or her identity. To enter into the dark and secret world of the “neighbors” is to experience a voyeuristic thrill.
The dissatisfaction that everyone feels at times with being merely themselves and the universal inner desire to change places with someone else is delicately handled in the story. For example, Bill’s fantasy of changing places with his neighbor is suggested by the simple act of his looking into the bathroom mirror, closing his eyes, and then looking again—as if by that blink, a transformation could take place. Moreover, the fact that Bill wants to make love to his wife after visiting the apartment reflects the erotic thrill of peeking into the life of someone else and then, almost in an act of autoeroticism, fulfilling that fantasy with whomever is at hand. The desperation the couple feel at the end as they find themselves locked out of the apartment, bracing themselves “as if against a wind,” points to the impossibility of truly entering into the lives of others, except to visit and, inevitably, to violate.