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“What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by Raymond Carver Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 3rd, 2019

How do Raymong Carver stories exhibit/manifest familial dysfunction?

Raymond Carver has extensively addressed the issue of family dysfunction in his collection of stories. A key indicator of the dysfunction is the inability to talk and lack of communication of feelings among the couples. In fact, most of the couples are only able to talk while intoxicated with alcohol. In the story What We Talk about When we Talk we Talk about Love, the couples talk while drinking gin.

They are stranded when the gin runs out. In fact, when Mel says, “Gin’s gone” (Carver 119), his wife asks what they will do. They have nothing more to say. In I could See the Smallest Things, Nancy feels lonely and leaves her drunken husband on the bed. She wanders in the backyard at night.

Infidelity among the couples is a crucial indicator of family dysfunction. Infidelity brings about distrust in the families. In the story Gazebo, Duane’s infidelity rocks his marriage.

Holly, his wife tries to look past her husband’s affair but cannot do so. She says that “something in her has died, although it took time, everything to her is dead” (Carver 228). They even try alcohol to settle things. However, it fails. Infidelity slowly fizzles out the love and trust among couples.

Violence and physical abuse are other symbols of dysfunction. Couples result to violence to solve their marital problems. Couples subject themselves to abuse from their partners. In fact, both Teri and Mel is a couple that has been in marriages.

However, they separated based on violence. Teri is a victim of violence from her ex-husband who later commits suicide. Mel, on the other hand, nurses the idea of murdering his first wife because she is still financially dependent on him.

Where do you find examples of lack of communication in Carver stories?

Lack of communication in the Carver’s collection of stories is evident because persons have to be drunk to talk. For instance, in gazebo, Duane and Holly had to take whisky so that they could stand a chance to talk out their marital problems.

This does not bear fruits. Alcohol consumption dominates the couples in the story What We Talk about when We Talk about Love. In fact, it helps Mel to open up and admit his harboring ideas to kill his first wife. Alcohol helps to remove the inhibition of communication problems so that the couples can communicate freely.

Emotional desolation is present in the stories. Couples are not able to communicate with their partners. This makes some persons to be lonely in marriage. As evidenced in the story So Much Water So Close Home, Claire is emotionally lonely.

Her husband Stuart does not seem to understand her. Stuart is so much engrossed in his activities with his friends that he does not effectively communicate with his wife. She is lonely emotionally because of lack of communication in her marriage.

Lack of communication brings about insecurity and violence. Spouses become insecure, thus, inhibiting communication channels. In What We Talk about when We Talk about Love, Teri is a victim of physical abuse from her former husband. He used to beat her.

He eventually commits suicide. Being strangers among the characters causes a break down in communication. In The Bath, the couple who are waiting in the hospital gets anonymous calls from the baker and gets irritated just because they are not aware of whoever is calling. They do not know the baker. There is a communication break down between them.

Where do you see evidence of minimalism in Carver’s stories?

Minimalism is a style by which the readers are actively drawn in the story. The author is economical with his words and phrases. He, thus, introduces uncertainty in the story line drawing the reader to think deeply. Raymond Carver employs minimalism technique in his stories.

He makes the stories bare, ambiguous and less intensive to the readers. Carver delineates some characters from the story like Mel in What We Talk about when We Talk about Love. He talks a few times in the whole story. His contribution is limited in the story.

Majority of the characters in the story The Bath have no names. The author only reveals the name of a few people like the boy’s mother, Ann, and Scotty. One of the main applications of this technique is the use of common nouns for the characters in the stories, which makes the stories seem unreal. In fact, he uses the nouns like the mother, the father, the dog, the doctor, to describe the characters in the story The Bath.

This implies uncertainty and ambiguity, as the reader is only certain concerning the existence of two characters: the rest is a mystery. In fact, the doctor cannot directly answer the question of whether the injured boy is in a coma despite his mother’s insistence. The story, therefore, is full of uncertainties because the characters are unclear.

Minimalism as a technique is not desirable as it makes the reader unsure of what the author intended to imply in the story. It also leaves a degree of uncertainty as to whether the event in the story certainly happened as they are not clearly conceptualized. The communication is in small minimal dialogue, which makes understanding hazy.

Where else do you see evidence of isolation and nihilism in the novel?

Nihilism and isolation in the novel “Less than Zero” is apocalyptic and equally dark. It is because of moral decadence and rottenness in behavior of Clay and his friends. The characters engage in casual sexual activities. The main character Clay engages in illicit sexual activities with both men and women.

He is emotionally isolated, is not sure of his true feelings for his girlfriend Blair, is unfaithful to her, and has an affair. He is unsure about his friend Trent who rapes a 12-year-old girl. The characters have no sense of humanity. In fact, when Rip shows them a teenage girl, he ties her as a sex slave just as he had seen in a movie. He answers, that “…he has nothing to lose” (Ellis 13).

Drugs bring emotional distress to the addicts. Violence and prostitution dominates their world. Clay, his friend Julian, and Muriel are all drug addicts. The addicts care less about others. They are ruthless. Rip rapes a teenage girl and seems to care less.

Finn exploits Julian sexually and emotionally. Addicts are emotionally and socially alienated from the rest. The addicts engage in prostitution to afford the drugs. This brings emotional distress. They do not seem to care about the morals.

Desire for money and power alienates the characters from the moral wellbeing. The characters are young, restless and arrogant. Clay and his friends go to parties. They are obnoxious and self-righteous. Clay even says that he does not need anything because he has anything that he needs (Ellis 8).

The need for money drives them to engage in prostitution to maintain their lifestyle. The characters lack a sense of life. Clay says, “The road we are driving on does not go anywhere…we will just drive on it because it does not matter” (Ellis 6).

How does the author’s minimalism convey meanings beyond what is written in the text?

Minimalism in Less than Zero is based on the author’s focus on the surface description. He leaves the readers to take sides in the story line. The author does not dictate the direction of the meaning of the story.

In the story, the author just describes the events and the flow of the story by the use of few words alongside providing hints that are oblique for readers to deduce the story. The themes in the story are not straightforward: they remain hidden in the entire story.

In the story, the author uses short sentences that have profound meanings. Blair tells Clay, “people are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles” (Ellis 34). The quote by Blair brings out the themes of fear, interaction and isolation. The freeway is where one expects people to interact freely without fear.

However, she says people are afraid to merge. One intelligible sentence brings out a lot of meaning. The reader ought to deploy a fair deal of keenness on the flow of sentences, which the author expresses with economy in words though with deeper meaning despite the simplicity of the sentence.

The author presents various critical points through uncomplicated sentences and analogies. A point where Clay passes a billboard written, “Just disappear” brings about a sense of meaningless and being lost. In fact, this is relevant to Clay whose life has been lost.

The author does not expressly tell the reader so. The reader should think deeply about its meaning. In fact, he also says that the road does not go anywhere (Ellis 42). This depicts the way his and his friends lives are pointless with no sense of direction.

Is the depravity caused by the ennui and nihilism, or is it merely a symptom of it?

The lifestyle of the youths depicted by the author has a fast and a chaotic pace. They engage in all sorts’ morally wrong behavior. Their behavior is because of crude up bringing. They do the horrendous things for fun. They want to spice up their lives with some chilling activities. Rip drugs and rapes a teenage girl just as he saw in a movie. When asked, he says that he has nothing to lose (Ellis 16).

They are juvenile spoilt youths who have already destroyed their youth. Clay does not care about anything. For instance, when Blair asks him what he cares about or makes him happy, he answers her, “I care about nothing, and nothing makes me happy, and not even you” (Ellis 25).

Clay and his friends commit their depraved acts because of lack of proper parenting and guidance. They lack a grounding influence. That is why they are so spoilt in their youth. Clay comes from a failed family set up. His parents separated. In fact, he does not even know the ages of his siblings.

There is an evident lack of parental guidance. Their evident unlimited freedom confirms this. They have misused it to a point of utter chaos in their lives. They do not care where their lives take them.

Clay and his friends are just a bunch of spoilt kids who take fun in perpetrating the evil acts. There is no attempt to feel, as they do not show any remorse or second thought for their actions.

In fact, while driving, Clay comes to a billboard sign written, “Disappear here” (Ellis 24), which freaks him: he screeches away. He does not want to reflect on his chaotic lifestyle. They are just spoilt youths who do not want to reflect on their awful lifestyle.

Works Cited

Carver, Raymond. What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. New York: Knopf, 1981. Print.

Ellis, Bret. Less than Zero. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. Print.

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