What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by Raymond Carver

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What role does setting play in the plot development of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?

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The significance of the setting is indicated by the fact that Carver presents it in the first two sentences of the second paragraph.  Both sentences are short and to the point:  "The fur of use ere sitting around his [Mel's] kitchen table drinking gin.  Sunlight filled the kitchen from the big window behind the sink."  The narrator then says: "There was an ice bucket on the table."  Repeatedly the narrator refers to the setting by saying things such as "Terry looked around the table" or "Mel reached across the table" or "She put her elbows on the table" and so on. In this way, the table becomes a motif that carries thematic meaning, suggesting it is an obstacle between these people that separates them and at the same time something that brings them together in a rather safe way. The light coming through the window also offers symbolic value, especially when we understand it in the context of the last words of the story, "the room when dark." The light at the beginning suggests the fairy tale notion we like to attach to love, but when all is said and done, what is left is a dark, existential moment when humanity is stripped of its illusions, leaving only the sound of four human hearts beating in the darkness.

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The setting is the McGinnis' kitchen table in their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but all four of the characters are "from somewhere else." This fact is important because it shows that it really doesn't matter where these four people are from or where this story is set. It's what the two couples represent--white, working-class America--that is important. Some have called this "Hopelessville, USA" because the characters have no hope of improving their lives. The pessimistic tone grows worse as the evening wears on, and the couples get drunker. The four people "talk" but they don't "communicate". It's only when they get drunker that their true feelings come out, and their feelings reflect the hopelessness of their lives. Once the alcohol is gone, so is the conversation between them, and both couples silently sit at the end, feeling the lack of hope in their futures.

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