Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Raymond Carver’s short stories, “Why Don’t You Dance?” is about an ordinary man moved to desperation by reversals of fortune. Though the reader is uncertain about what recent events have caused the man’s bizarre behavior, there are broad hints in the text about a marital breakup. At any rate, the home is in crisis, probably as a result, at least in part, of the man’s heavy drinking—he is never without a drink in the story, and he mixes beer and whiskey with ease. Similarly withheld is what happens after the man and girl start dancing together, but certainly it is something that the girl, weeks later, would like to be able to forget. The suggestion is of exhibitionism and voyeurism, though the act itself is less important than the reader’s knowledge that the man is at the breaking point. Twice during the story the girl calls the man “desperate,” though his behavior throughout is less frenzied and irrational than it is eerily calm. He is a man with nothing left to lose.

Much of the effect of this story is attributable to the very ordinariness of the characters, the surroundings, and the dialogue. In its ability to exploit the potential horror of the everyday, “Why Don’t You Dance?” can be called surrealist. The setting, a suburban lawn, is made unfamiliar and grotesque because it is covered with furniture obsessively arranged as it was indoors. Routine objects take on weird significance in the context of the story: A...

(The entire section is 490 words.)