Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Carver’s clear, uncluttered syntax; short, simple sentences; and judicious use of repetition make comparisons with Ernest Hemingway inevitable. With Hemingway, Carver clearly represents the realist tradition in fiction, and the stories collected in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976), and Cathedral (1983, the collection in which “A Small, Good Thing” appears) established him as one of that tradition’s foremost American practitioners.

The profundity of such stories as “A Small, Good Thing” resides in what lies beneath the uncomplicated surface of Carver’s prose: complex and universal emotions with which even the most casual reader must instantly identify. In his quest for the right word that will trigger this sympathetic response, Carver does for twentieth century America what Flaubert did for France a century earlier: He exposes and records the emotional nuances, the tensions and the trials, of a troubled middle class.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

People in line at a bakery Published by Gale Cengage


Carver's work is in the tradition of realism. When he began to publish his short stories in the 1970s, the...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)


Other than the fact that the story appears to be set in the United States, there is a lack of specificity in the...

(The entire section is 321 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

  • 1980s: Carver writes mainly about people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, and during the 1980s, the gap between...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

  • Do some Internet research on the medical condition known as coma and make a class presentation about it. What is a coma? What causes...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

  • Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (1976) was Carver's first major collection of short stories. The stories feature blue collar...

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)


Applefield, David, "Fiction and America: Raymond Carver," in Conversations with Raymond Carver, edited by...

(The entire section is 501 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.