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What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver Essay

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Updated: Aug 16th, 2020

Introduction: What Lurks in the Dark

Written by Raymond Carver, the short novel What We Talk about When We Talk about Love is a world-renowned masterpiece. Not only does it get a very interesting message concerning the nature of relationships, but also creates strong characters, poses a range of dilemmas to the readers and creates a unique atmosphere, which combines the elements of creepiness and despair, therefore, making the readers consider the concept of relationships from a different angle.

Although a lot of strengths of the story come from a well-developed character, a unique premise, and an unusual way of getting a message across, it is the setting, which contributes most to the environment that makes it possible for the characters and the story to exist. The question, therefore, concerns the ubiquitous darkness that surrounds the main characters throughout the story and the purpose of this darkness, whereas the key problem concerns the reasonability of using darkness as the basis for furthering the story and developing the characters.

Character Development

First and most obvious, the fact that Carver makes his characters communicate in complete darkness can be interpreted as the strategy for showing character development in a more distinct manner. While the background is traditionally created so that it could serve as the foil for the characters’ evolution, in the scenario described by Carver, making the background subtle enough is rather hard. In the plot, when characters only sit and talk, and in a rather composed manner at that, making them distinct and memorable is only possible when the background is barely noticeable.

It would be wrong to claim that the characters do not emote – quite on the contrary, they do share their feelings with each other in a rather open manner: “’Mel, we love you,’ Laura said” (Carver 360). However, with the plot literally going nowhere, a colorful background would have drawn too much attention to itself – whereas, in some stories, character chews the scenery, a case in point would have been the example of scenery-chewing the characters. Therefore, the use of darkness as the basic background for the characters to evolve can be considered rather wise.

Making the Story Investing

Concealing the setting, which the dialogue supposedly takes place in, the darkness that the characters remain in the course of the entire novel can be viewed as a tool for focusing on the plot and furthering the story. Indeed, whereas a detailed description of the environment, which the characters are placed in, would have added to the atmosphere, it would have also distracted the readers’ attention from the main subject of the novel, i.e., the story.

Ideas and Concepts: What the Characters Say

Much like the comparatively dark setting contributes to the evolution of the plot, it also helps the characters’ personalities shine through better than they would have in a more distinct environment. The uncertainty, which darkness creates, leads to the search for double meaning in the dialogues; as a result, the reader discovers a range of new meanings and hidden innuendoes to the characters’ cue lines: “I could head right out into the sunset” (Carver 363) can be interpreted both as Laura’s intention to start a brand new life and her willingness to continue her journey making the same mistakes with the realization that this is what she wants and this is her idea of relationships. The ambiguity, which the characters’ equivocal statements create, is emphasized greatly by the dark and heavy environment, in which they communicate.

Confusion and Symbolism

On a deeper level of analysis, which might involve certain guesswork, it can be assumed that darkness surrounding the characters bears a symbolic significance, implying the confusion, which the characters in the novel experience as they navigate through their own emotions preferring an illusion to the bitter realization of the truth. In fact, the darkness in the room may also be symbolic of the dark nature of the relationships, which the characters in question are involved in.

The parallel between the darkness in the room and the darkness that the characters of the story have to navigate in as far as their relationships are concerned truly shines through – no pun intended – as the characters point out each other’s confusion about the nature of love. In fact, Mel, another victim of Ed’s abusive behavior, mentions the fact that he literally made him drive in the night – in the dark – supposedly, in order to help Ed: “Sometimes, as I say, I’d get a call in the middle of the night and have to go into the hospital at two or three in the morning. It’d be dark out there in the parking lot, and I’d break into a sweat before I could even get to my car” (Carver 357).

Making the Story Timeless

Finally, the fact that each of the characters tells their story in complete dark most of the time makes it clear that the problems, which they are redescribing, can happen to anyone. Thus, the setting itself sets the tone for the audience to perceive the narration as a cautionary tale of what happens when one deals with the problems in their personal relationships following their emotions instead of using reason. It would have been very easy to add even more intensity to the situation by describing graphically the environment, in which the stories are told; however, instead, Carver prefers to focus on the characters and the flaws in their personalities, which have led to these dramatic events.

It would be wrong to claim that the people described in the novel have no character and, therefore, their stories can be attached to anyone – quite on the contrary, these characters possess a range of unique characteristics, yet these characteristics come out in full blue when they interact or tell about their lives and relationships, which makes them entirely identifiable: “You see, this happened a month ago, but it’s still going on right now, and it ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love” (Carver 360).

Conclusion: Where the Story Ends

Therefore, while serving the purpose of making the characters more distinct and the story more piercing for the most part, darkness, which the characters are immersed in, can also be viewed as a metaphor for the despair that their relationships are shot through with. They wander in darkness in search of a hint or a stroke of luck, which may possibly help them learn to be happy, yet everything that they do happens to be in vain. A dark and brooding novel, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, becomes memorable owing to its unique setting.

Works Cited

Carver, Raymond. “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. New York City, NY: W. W. Norton, 2006. 356–363. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, August 16). What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love-by-carver/

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"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver." IvyPanda, 16 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love-by-carver/.

1. IvyPanda. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver." August 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love-by-carver/.


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IvyPanda. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver." August 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love-by-carver/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver." August 16, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love-by-carver/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Carver'. 16 August.

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